The Superbowl of Energy in Minnesota

Xcel has a 15-year plan for Minnesota, and it's coming before the state regulators this year. The regulators (Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) - the same 5 people who approved the Line 3 pipeline) themselves have called this the "Superbowl" of Energy in Minnesota, and pledged to make up for what emissions were made on Line 3 by being leaders on these 15-year electricity plans.

*** Major update: On June 25th, Xcel Energy dropped their plans to build a new Sherco Gas Plant! See New Blogpost to read more *** 

This win was a result of Clean Energy Groups and thousands of Xcel Energy customers voicing opposition to their proposed gas plant that would have emitted over 4 million metric tons of carbon per year! 

Chris Clark, the CEO of Xcel's subsidiary Northern States Power, stated in a Star Tribune Article, "One consistent theme in them (comments) was pretty strong opposition to our Sherco gas plant in Becker".

To this point, *** Click here to see a video of the June 15th people's hearing where community members spoke out against Xcel's Plans to Build a billion dollar new gas plant + pipeline facility. 

This is a much needed victory on the most urgent matter. Our voices have begun to pay off, but the overall fight for our energy future is not over until the PUC rules on it.

Comment on Xcel's 15-Year Energy Resource Plan - New Comment Deadline October 15th! (see below)

Click here to view the document regarding the comment deadline. 

The Public Utilities Commission has created yet another comment period based on Xcel's Alternate Plan. It initially had a deadline of August 13, but has since been extended 9 weeks to October 15th at the request of the Department of Commence. Click here to view the document of topics open for comment.

On this page:

- A brief History of Xcel's proposed gas plant- and how it went down.   

- Our position on Xcel's New Plan

- What else is in Xcel's plan?

- What would we like to see instead

- Ways to comment by August 13th including video testimony

- Memes!

A brief History of Xcel's proposed gas plant- and how it went down

Xcel's previous plan proposed building a ~$1 billion fracked gas plant and pipeline infrastructure in Becker, MN by 2027. In fact, it circumvented regulation by slipping a law through the legislature to allow them to do so when the PUC was skeptical. Xcel has stated commitment to carbon reduction goals. But because of expected methane releases, this new fossil gas plant would have had roughly the same net greenhouse gas impact as the coal it would replace. To see more great info this, visit the Energy We Can't Afford website. In addition, Xcel customers would have been forced to pay for the plant even if retired after only a few years. 

Who turned the corner on the meme above? What caused Xcel has rejected its own plan to build a new $1 billion-dollar fracked gas plant and new pipeline?

Sierra Club, Fresh Energy, the Citizens Utility Board, and the Institute for Local Self Reliance have all developed 15-year energy plans that are cleaner, more affordable and more localized than Xcel's. Each organization used the same software that Xcel used to create their plan. But all concluded that there is no need to build this new gas plant (which Xcel has claimed for 5 years is necessary for reliability). But Xcel had refused to study any alternative scenario to building a new billion dollar fossil gas plant + pipeline. These alternative plans  (click here to see a video of the June 8th presentation) show that we could meet our energy needs by building much more distributed renewables, community solar and energy storage instead. 

Had Xcel’s gas plant been built according to their planned schedule, it would have almost instantly become a stranded asset. In order to meet Xcel Energy's own stated climate goals, the gas plant would have had to be shut down decades ahead of its lifespan while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy from Xcel’s Minnesota utility customers. In fact, Xcel stated that its new proposal - without the Becker combined cycle gas plant - would save its Minnesota customers over $600 million in comparison to its original proposal. In doing so, Xcel has effectively finally admitted that large new gas plants are an unnecessarily expensive energy plan that can't compete with wind and solar.

Our position on Xcel's New Plan:

Here are some initial messaging points on Xcel's New 15 year plan filed on June 25th: 

 

Good News:

The 835 MW Sherco Combined Cycle (CC)* Gas Plant is out! 

Maybe Not so Good News:

Xcel's new plan proposes 2 new Combustion Thermal (CT)* gas plants and to refurbish 2 other CT gas plants for a total of 1100 MW of gas

Good News:

These new proposed gas plants must be approved by the PUC; there is no legislative workaround like Xcel successfully lobbied for with the Sherco Gas plant. 

Construction of these CT gas plants is much less expensive than new CC plants.

The proposed CT Plants emit far less CO2 due to a much lower capacity factor and because the plants will run for full power for only a fraction of the time. 

The Questionable News:

Xcel Claims that these new CT plants will be "100% Hydrogen Ready" but there are no details and no plans to prototype Hydrogen Production. 

More Good News:

There is now 250 MW of Energy Storage compared to 0 MW in Xcel's previous plan. 

There is more wind power 2650 MW compared to 2250 MW in Xcel's previous plan. 

The Not So Good News: 

Energy Efficiency and Demand Response are at the same levels as Xcel's previous plan

There were no improvements in distributed solar since Xcel's previous plan. If we get more distributed solar than Xcel's low estimates, it gets taken out of Utility Scale Solar.  

Potentially Disturbing News:

Xcel appears to be considering extending the operating life of Prairie Island Nuclear Plant (Their Monticello Nuclear Plant License extension is already requested). While the facility itself is considered "Carbon Free" it stores dangerous nuclear waste in the Mississippi River floodplain, while Xcel frames these these extensions as if they involve almost no extra cost. As Xcel’s most recent nuclear plant extensions show, repairing and maintaining nuclear power plants beyond their original operating life typical costs Minnesotans hundreds of millions of dollars. These are essentially public funds that could otherwise be spent on cheaper, clean, and safe energy solutions.

* NOTE: CT versus CC power plants

Basically, in a combustion turbine, the gas is burned and the resulting heat and pressure are used to directly drive a turbine. In a combined cycle, in addition to combustion turbine electricity generation, the “waste heat” from the CT is used to make steam to drive a second turbine.  The overall efficiency (i.e. conversion of energy in gas to electrical energy) is therefore greatly increased. For short video on CC, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sa0G07wUfw

What else is in Xcel's plan?

 

So what else is Xcel proposing? There's a lot to be very, very worried about and not a lot to love if you have climate, affordability, equity, and resilience as a measure of priority. Xcel plans to:

  • MORE FRACKED GAS: new fracked gas plants ~1100 megawatts more of likely fracked gas
  • COAL THROUGH 2030: keep burning coal through 2030, losing money every day the coal plants stay open
  • NUCLEAR BEYOND 2030: extend the life of one of if not both nuclear plants, adding to radioactive waste
  • SUPRESSION OF COMMUNITY SOLAR: cut individual and community-owned solar while expanding Xcel-owned solar
  • INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS ON ENERGY STORAGE: Xcel's previous plan treated renewables and energy storage (like batteries) as an "either/or" not a "both/and," which ignores the basic resiliency and reliability -  the two in fact amplify and strengthen each other! 
  • MORE TRASH BURNING keep burning trash as "renewable energy"

What would we like to see instead?

 

We'd encourage you to review this David Roberts article titled "solar and home batteries make a clean grid vastly more affordable" the alternative plans webinar recording discussing key points of what we can do better in Xcel Energy's plan, and talking points from our allies at the Sierra Club to learn more and consider what you want to say to Minnesota regulators who will review and revise Xcel's plan. When you're ready (and before October 15th), you can submit a written comment via the PUC Speak Up! page (use docket # 19-368) or record a short video via FlipGrid to be shared with the Commission.

 

 Here's a shortlist of our talking points about what we'd like to see instead:

 

1: Prioritize of distributed renewable energy, energy storage, and demand side management instead of Xcel's costly gas-plant and monopoly of renewables.

While these less frequently used plants are a big reduction climate pollution as compared to Xcel’s original proposal, the company still does not admit or demonstrate how that is a more affordable energy pathway than solar plus storage. The later which has already proven itself to provide great reliability with providing peak power in many parts of the country. While Xcel’s report did give a nod to the fact that they have never effectively included distributed and community-based clean energy in their plans, it still suggests that the vast majority of new clean energy will be centralized, and utility owned. In effect they continue to  ignore the mounting evidence that roof-top and community scale solar plays a vital role in keeping our grid resilient and affordable.

Xcel's faulty projections preference company-owned renewables and short-change community-owned renewables, and in so doing force their gas plant through as necessary. Xcel not-so-subtlely cites "market conditions" for the decrease in community-scale projects (though the "market" is a monopoly in which they pull the strings....)  and has chosen NOT to study any options that would undermine their claim that a new gas plant is necessary, violating a PUC order and State Statute.  The alternatives that would a gas plant obsolete and save $1 billion per year? Widespread, community-scale renewables! 

2: Shutdown all coal plants by 2025

Xcel waits until 2030, 2026, and 2023 to shut down the last of three coal plants, despite losing money every day they are open. See the link in point #2 above to learn about the plan that shows we can shut down coal by 2025 at the latest saving a billions dollars over multiple years by replacing that energy supply with small-scale, distributed renewables and energy storage.

3: Set out the course to shut down both nuclear plants, and remove radioactive waste from Prairie Island Indian Community

Only ~8% of uranium mined to use in making nuclear energy comes from inside the US. Both in the US and globally, indigenous communities bear the disproportionate burden of that mining - from the Cree nation in current-day Canada; to the Havasupai and Dine nations in current-day southwestern US and the Oceti Sakowin nations near the Black Hills of the US; to the multiple Aboriginal tribes in current-day Australia. Once its brought to Minnesota and used up in the making of electricity at the two nuclear plants - in Monticello and Red Wing, Minnesota - the radioactive waste is brought to be stored 600 yards from one of the smallest Dakota reservations in Minnesota, Prairie Island Indian Community. This has been un-consensual since the arrangement was proposed in the 1970s. Read below about how we can save money, dramatically decrease emissions and avoid any more nuclear:

4: End all trash burner Power-Purchase-Agreements 

Xcel currently buys energy from at least 2 trash burners - one in North Minneapolis and one in Red Wing - that provide smaller amounts of energy and are strongly opposed my many in the community. Xcel and other industry partners euphemistically lump trash burning in with renewables calling it "waste to energy" or "biomass." If you visit the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, look for ad-campaign on the trash cans in the C-wing of the airport. Makes trash look like solution!

 

FIVE WAYS TO COMMENT by October 15th @ 4:30pm

Note: you cannot submit anonymous comments, please don't submit anything you do not wish to be publicly available

 

Additional Ways to Comment:

  1. THROUGH AN ORGANIZATION: For a quick and easy option, the Energy We Can’t Afford Coalition has a provided a sample letter with space to type in your personal comments. The organization will be submit what you type as comments on Xcel’s 15 year plan.
  2. VIDEO COMMENT   You could submit a pre-recorded Video Comment through https://flipgrid.com/5fb94252  or create video and send a Youtube link or wav file by email to [email protected]
  3. ONLINE DIRECTLY to the MN Public Utility Commission Submit a comment at this link and then reference docket number 19-368.
  4. MAIL  Write a letter. Make sure to include your name and Docket Number 19-368 and mail it to: Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, 121 7th Place East, Suite #350, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 55101

Just in case: if you run into difficulty submitting comments, contact Anne Thom (Supervisor | Consumer Affairs Office) at 651-355-0000

Some tips for writing a great comment:
  • Pick 1-3 talking points and focus on it.
  • The comment doesn’t have to be long.
  • Let it be personal. Do you have a story?