Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to 3.6 million customers in eight states, has become the first major U.S. utility committed to delivering 100 percent carbon-free power by 2050.
Equally remarkable, the plan Xcel announced on Tuesday promises an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2030. The company stated that “its 2030 goal can be achieved affordably with renewable energy and other technologies currently available.”
Xcel, Colorado’s largest utility, made its announcement to go carbon free at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. CEO Ben Fowke told reporters, “This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too.”
The company can already buy new renewable power plants for less money than it costs to simply operate existing coal plants. Last year, for instance, Xcel reported that bids for new Colorado wind farms with battery storage were cheaper than running old coal plants,
And in August, state regulators approved an Xcel plan to shutter two Colorado coal plants and replace them with renewables plus a battery storage, while saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The state’s governor-elect, Democrat Jared Polis, who attended Tuesday’s event, praised Xcel for “having the most aggressive goal of any utility in the country.” He added, “One of the great things about this transition is it will create tens of thousands of good, green jobs that will never be outsourced.”
“It’s not only about carbon; it’s also about cleaner air, which means people will be healthier,” said Polis, who successfully campaigned on a commitment to transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. “We’re showing the country the way.”
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Xcel expects to achieve its 80 percent goal with existing technologies like solar, wind and battery storage.
But Fowke said “there will be other technologies that we will need on the grid to get us to that 100 percent carbon” goal in 2050. That might include advanced battery storage, nuclear power, and even capturing and storing CO2 emissions from coal or gas plants.
With its announcement, Xcel has shown the way. Now the question is whether other major U.S. utilities plan to make similar pledges needed to decarbonize the grid rapidly in the coming decade and beyond.