MN PUC Approves Coal Retirements, Renewables, and No New Gas in Xcel IRP
This week, the MN Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved, with modifications, Xcel Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan, a 15-year energy plan for customers in Minnesota. Since the plan was filed in 2019, thousands of Minnesotans have weighed in, Sierra Club and many other stakeholders conducted robust analysis and submitted alternative plans, and our work made a difference. The plan that the PUC approved represents a significant step towards a Minnesota that is powered by 100% clean and renewable energy, although there is much work that still remains to be done.
How did we get here?
When Xcel first filed its plan in 2019, we were encouraged by Xcel’s plans to retire its coal plants by 2030, but discouraged by Xcel’s plans to build a huge new gas plant and that Xcel missed opportunities to develop local, equitable energy. Sierra Club developed an alternative plan, the Clean Energy for All Plan, using the same modeling software as Xcel, that would save customers $2.2 billion while avoiding building new gas plants, as well as increasing rooftop solar, wind, battery storage and utility scale solar. In a huge victory for Minnesotans, Xcel responded to growing opposition to new fossil generation by dropping its proposal to build the Sherco gas plant last summer. Unfortunately, Xcel still proposed to build 2 new gas peaker plants that would run less often instead of the 100% renewable energy and storage solution that we proposed in our Clean Energy for All Plan.
What did MN PUC Approve?
The Commission spent multiple days in hearings discussing Xcel’s proposed plans, along with the three alternative proposed plans (from Sierra Club, Citizens Utility Board MN, and the Clean Energy Organizations - Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Union of Concerned Scientists and Clean Grid Alliance), and getting feedback from other stakeholders. On February 8th, the Commission approved Xcel’s updated plan with some key modifications.
The plan is, on balance, a huge win for our climate and Xcel customers. The Commission approved:
The retirement of Xcel’s remaining 1,498 MW of coal: Allen S. King plant in 2028 and Sherco 3 plant in 2030.
A significant expansion of utility-scale wind and solar energy, including approval of 2 gen-tie transmission lines that will allow Xcel to use interconnection rights from coal retirements to build new renewables;
Xcel’s withdrawal of plans to build the Sherco Combined Cycle gas plant;
Requirements for Xcel to work with stakeholders to allow customer owned (distributed) solar to compete on an even playing field with utility-scale generation as part of Xcel’s next resource plan in 2024; and
Requirements for Xcel to do community outreach and establish a stakeholder group to design programs for energy burdened customers, improve access to energy efficiency and renewables, address workforce diversity, design distributed generation programs to ensure equitable access to BIPOC communities, adopt practices of procedural justice, and form an environmental justice accountability board.
The Commission did not approve any new gas in Xcel’s plan. They did not reject or approve Xcel’s proposal to build 2 new fossil gas peaker plants instead of the Sherco gas plant, instead requiring Xcel to analyze renewables and storage alternatives in a new docket.
The Commission also approved the extension of the Monticello nuclear plant’s operating life, which the Sierra Club opposed on environmental and economic grounds.
What happens next?
While we made significant progress in this resource plan, Xcel and the Commission missed some opportunities to ensure Xcel is on a path to 100% clean & equitable energy. We still have work to do to stop new gas plants, advocate for customer- and community-owned solar energy, and support energy justice and procedural justice in energy planning.
We will celebrate our victory! Thank you to everyone who submitted a comment, spoke at a public hearing, attended an event, signed a petition, and volunteered to push Xcel and the Commission to improve Xcel’s plan. YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE. Look out for an invitation to celebrate this spring!
We will fight against building new gas plants in a climate crisis. Despite all of the analysis demonstrating Xcel doesn’t need to build new gas in the midst of a climate crisis, Xcel still intends to move forward with its proposed peaker plants in Fargo, ND and Lyon County, MN. We will continue to join Minnesotans across the state to show that moving towards 100% clean energy is more cost effective and better for our climate and health than building new fossil gas plants. Xcel already operates more than 2,400 MW of gas and oil peakers. We don’t need more fossil fuels; we can meet energy and reliability needs with cost-effective renewable energy and energy storage. We expect that Xcel will come forward with a request for approval of its two new peaker plants in 2022.
We will build our movement for a just transition to 100% clean & equitable energy. We will work with our partners to engage in the stakeholder processes established by the Commission for both customer-owned distributed solar and energy equity. And we will continue to look for opportunities to support customer- and community-owned solar, support communities in demanding more accessible programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and ensure that our most vulnerable communities are able to benefit from energy efficiency programs, clean energy sources, and more.
The North Star Chapter’s Clean Energy Team is our volunteer team that works to fight dirty energy and support 100% clean energy. If you’d like to get involved, consider attending our monthly meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month (meeting details can be found on our calendar). Please reach out to our Co-Chair, John Krenn with any questions at email@example.com.