By Chuck Laszewski

Xcel Energy needs our help.

The Minnesota utility has developed its next 15-year plan, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty timid. So, Xcel needs its customers to come forward and tell the company, “Buck up. Show some courage. Be a leader.”

To be sure, after getting a swift kick from the Minnesota Legislature in 2007 when it passed bills signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty requiring all utilities to hit specific standards for energy efficiency and renewable energy, Xcel became a national leader in those areas.

But its new plan, officially called an Integrated Resource Plan, has the look of a leader who has come up with cold sweats and wants to drop back into the pack with the rest of the utilities. That’s a bad idea for Xcel and even more so for us, its customers. Not only are we in a climate emergency, making retreat impossible, but dropping back will cost us more money in our monthly electrical and gas bills.

Let’s look at some of the particulars. The company wants to slow down rooftop and community solar growth by a whopping 97 percent in the 15-year plan. Worse, it will not add any new wind power. This is odd from a company that not only knows wind is now the cheapest way to produce electricity but has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising touting wind energy and bragging about Xcel’s leadership in developing that alternative energy.

Shiloh Temple International Ministries installed a 200 kilowatt solar array on their roof in 2018 that supplies energy for about 30 families in the community. Image: MinnPost.

Xcel has also helped propel Minnesota to the forefront of community solar. Those projects, such as solar gardens, allow people who can’t afford to put panels on their homes to buy a piece of a solar plot and earn credits to cut their Xcel bill. Community solar has the added benefit of producing the energy closer to where it will be used, reducing the need for huge transmission lines.

Despite the fact that 200 megawatts of community solar came on-line in 2018 alone, Xcel wants to add only a puny 300 megawatts over the next 15 years. 

The utility deserves kudos for its energy efficiency programs, where it helps businesses and homeowners install equipment, insulation, new windows and other materials so the buildings consume much less gas and electricity. In its plan, Xcel promises to maintain energy efficiency funding at 2.5 percent of its sales annually (above the 1.5 percent state requirement). We would like one tweak; make these cost saving programs more accessible for their low-income customers.

There are a number of other items Xcel customers can debate, but I will end with this one. The company wants to build a huge 800-megawatt gas-powered electrical generating plant in Becker. It would be fueled by the environmentally destructive process of fracking. Xcel, don’t do it. 

Many of us applauded Xcel in the past as they replaced some of their coal-fired power plants with gas. It produces somewhat fewer greenhouse gases and it was a fine as a transition to a carbon-free system. But we are past that point. The climate situation is now a crisis. We cannot be building anymore fossil fuel plants. Especially, when the economics clearly point to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

So, come on people. If you can, head down to the public hearing about Xcel’s Integrated Resource Plan: 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, at Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, 800 Conway St. in St. Paul. Let’s help Xcel get its groove back.

Chuck Laszewski of Falcon Heights is a former newspaper reporter, covering the environment, and now does volunteer communications with MN350.