With Xcel Energy’s new announcement that we’re seeking to build a major new wind farm in the Upper Midwest, it will have some people asking whether adding even more wind, solar and other clean energy sources is really the best move for our customers’ wallets and for the reliability of our electrical system. The fact is, our experience shows us the answer to both these questions is a solid yes.
We are pursuing cleaner energy like wind and solar because it’s an affordable, reliable and secure way to generate the power we need while growing a clean energy industry that now supports 3 million jobs. Our customers want clean energy at an affordable cost, and the energy industry is rising to meet that challenge.
It may surprise people to hear that, thanks to advancements in turbine technology and better weather forecasting tools, wind is actually among the lowest cost energy sources. The project we just proposed, Dakota Range I & II wind farm in northeastern South Dakota, will actually help us keep customers’ bills flat, or even lower them over time. It will expand upon our position as the nation’s top utility wind energy provider for more than a decade now.
Costs have come down
What’s more important is that this is the first time anywhere in the nation that a wind project is being proposed without the full federal wind production tax credits. It’s proof that, while the tax credits have been helpful in growing the wind industry, the costs have come down so much that they are competitive with, and sometimes lower than, other sources of new generation. By investing in wind energy today, we are developing renewable infrastructure that doesn’t require us to purchase fuel for decades to come, and we can pass those savings on to our customers.
Renewable energy is also reliable. Not long ago, there was skepticism about how much wind and solar power could absorb into the power grid. What happens when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining?
But those days are past, and we’ve clearly seen that wind can be a significant contributor to our system without impacting our ability to keep the lights on. Our experience is proof that wind can contribute greatly to a reliable system. Today’s advanced technology allows us to plan ahead. When steady winds are predicted, we rely on wind energy and less on natural gas and coal, saving fuel and reducing emissions.
By 2021, wind farms will generate fully one-third of the power our customers in the Midwest receive. That’s because Dakota Range and the seven other new wind projects in the region that we proposed earlier this year will grow our wind portfolio in the region by 70 percent, generating enough new wind energy to power nearly a million homes. And we expect to keep doing more.
Carbon emissions reduced
In Xcel Energy’s Midwest states, more than half the energy our customers receive today is generated without any carbon emissions. We’ve reduced carbon emissions by a third in the Upper Midwest since 2005. And five years from now, 70 percent of our energy will come from renewables and other carbon-free sources. Along with our expanding wind portfolio, we’re committed to continue investing in solar energy, which is beginning to grow rapidly in Minnesota.
We focus a lot of on wind and solar, because they’re fast-growing components of our energy portfolio. But clean energy includes a diverse mix of energy types. Minnesota’s two nuclear plants are major contributors to our clean energy generation. They produce 30 percent of the energy for our Upper Midwest customers, generating enough power to serve 1.5 million homes, completely carbon free. Generating that much power without carbon emissions is like removing 2 million cars from Minnesota roads.
Natural gas, too, plays a role in our diverse, cleaner energy mix. As we continue to retire coal plants across our service territory, we’re converting some of them to run on natural gas instead, which has half the carbon emissions.
Efficiency matters as well
Of course, the cleanest, least-expensive energy is energy we don’t have to produce at all. When customers take steps to lower their energy usage, those reductions add up, even helping us avoid building additional power plants we might otherwise need. That’s why we offer customers assistance in increasing the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses, reducing emissions and keeping bills flat.
The facts and figures around clean energy tell a compelling story, but beyond all that is what really drives us forward: the communities and customers who count on us to provide clean, reliable and secure energy while keeping their bills low.
Chris Clark is the president of Xcel Energy – Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota.
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