Holy Cross Energy – the local rural electric co-op – got some serious love on an Xcel Energy conference call with reporters to announce what the eight-state electric utility is calling “the most ambitious [carbon reduction plan] announced to date within the electric power industry.”
Citing the dire National Climate Assessment report released last month, Minnesota-based Xcel, which provides the majority of the electrical power in Colorado, on Tuesday announced it plans to deliver 100-percent carbon-free electricity to all of its customers by 2050, meaning no more coal- or natural gas-fired power plants. The company also plans to cut carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“The risk of climate change is real, and we need to address it. I think [the climate assessment] drives home the sense of urgency,” Xcel Energy Chairman, President and CEO Ben Fowke said on the call, referencing the Reagan administration’s efforts to save the ozone layer in the 1980s. “Well, it turned out to be the right call. We’re in that position to take out an insurance policy [on climate change] that’s not going to cost very much if anything at all.”
Fowke said the company’s new plan will require new technologies and for existing technologies to become more commercially viable, but he added that Xcel has already achieved 35-percent carbon reduction in the past decade and the price of large-scale wind and solar has fallen by more than 70 percent, making it head-on competitive with fossil alternatives.
Fowke promises the utility won’t sacrifice anything in terms of reliability and affordability, and he points out the company – without any changes – is currently on track to reduce carbon emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Now it’s committing to 80 percent in that same time frame.
Asked if the rural electric co-ops Xcel provides power to, such as Holy Cross, are onboard with new plan, Xcel Energy Colorado President Alice Jackson lauded the announcement by Holy Cross this fall of its new seventy30thirty plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent from 2014 levels by 2030, as well as increase its renewable resources to 70 percent by that same year.
“They made an announcement not too long ago about a 70-percent carbon reduction goal by 2030, and they’re one of the customers that gets to benefit from things like the Colorado Energy Plan that was recently approved, which achieves a 60-percent carbon reduction on our system,” Jackson said Tuesday, referring to Xcel’s 60-percent initiative approved by regulators over the summer.
“So, you’re going to see a range of cooperatives and what they’re looking for,” Jackson added. “I can only name the ones that I work with directly and significantly, and the one that I would point to most would be Holy Cross.”
Fowke said it will be challenging to get Public Utilities Commission approval, as well as the legislative steps necessary to advance the latest plan, particularly as it relates to increasing the amount of research and development on new technologies going on in the state.
“I don’t think getting buy-in across both sides of the aisle and various stakeholders is going to be a cakewalk,” Fowke said. “We need support and we need to demonstrate the compelling economics and the plan that we can put forth to get us there.”
But both Xcel and Holy Cross will have that support from local lawmakers at least.
“Holy Cross has led the way on being a progressive co-op reflecting the environmental values of the community it serves,” said Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail, who was re-elected last month. “I am excited about the work Holy Cross has done and look forward to working at the state level to continue to support the efforts of Holy Cross, and now Xcel energy, on the state policy to facilitate our energy transition to ensure a healthy environment for generations to come.”
Donovan is part of a new Democratic majority in the state senate. Dylan Roberts, an Eagle Democrat who was also elected in November to represent Eagle and Routt counties, will be part of an increased Democratic majority in the state house.
“This is a very exciting and encouraging announcement and I commend Xcel for joining Holy Cross in being leaders on this issue,” Roberts said Tuesday. “Addressing and mitigating the impacts of climate change is one of the most vital causes of our time.”
Roberts did not outline specific legislative goals once the legislature is back in session in January, but he did say it will take a big coalition to make the necessary changes.
“Saving our environment and economy from the effects of climate change will take action by many partners: private corporations, public utilities, and government,” Roberts added. “I look forward to working at the legislature to support Holy Cross, Xcel Energy, and many other entities to make significant progress for our state, country, and world.”
Xcel’s menu of new and improved technologies necessary to achieve the 2050 goal includes but isn’t limited to nuclear power, carbon capture and hydrogen power. Fowke pointed out that nuclear power is a significant part of the company’s mix in Minnesota and that he doesn’t want to see those facilities retired prematurely. Colorado doesn’t have any nuclear.
Fowke was asked why the company doesn’t just label this latest plan a 100-percent renewable target – something that would be more aligned with the stated goal of the in-coming Gov-elect Jared Polis administration.
“It’s important that we don’t shut down that the real goal is 100 percent carbon free. Let’s make sure that we look at all the tools in the toolbox to get there and we’ll bet on the ones that are the most pragmatic and economically viable,” Fowke said. “I listen to scientists on climate change, and I listen to my system engineers on reliability. You can’t legislate physics.”
Polis chimed in via a press release, saying the Xcel plan advances Colorado as a clean-energy leader.
“When I launched my campaign back in 2017, we had a bold agenda for our state to get to 100 percent renewable by 2040,” Polis said. “Xcel Energy’s exciting announcement today, along with the strong climate goals communities like Pueblo, Summit County, Ft. Collins, Denver and others across the state have embraced, shows we are leading the way forward right here in Colorado — by committing to a renewable and clean energy future.”