Xcel’s huge energy plan offers big chance to address environmental racismFebruary 26, 2021
Making 100 percent of the state’s energy carbon-free by 2040; protecting waterways to create more sustainable food production; investing in green infrastructure. These are just a few of the proposals from the DFL-led State House of Representatives that have environmental activists buzzing.
But a divided state Legislature–Democrats control the House and the governor’s office; Republicans run the Senate—means those bills have a slim shot at success.
Unidos MN, a social justice nonprofit that advocates for immigrant communities, wanted to ensure it was directing resources toward a major initiative with a direct climate impact on Minnesota. So the group began organizing around Xcel Energy’s Integrated Resources Plan.
“We were thinking, ‘How can we envision beyond the legislature?’” Jose Alvillar, a climate organizer with Unidos, told Sahan Journal.
The Xcel Energy Integrated Resource Plan is a dense, 367-page document that maps out how the state’s largest utility provider will produce and distribute electricity for the next 15 years. Xcel provides electricity to 1.3 million customers in Minnesota.
In 2019, Xcel submitted the plan, required by state law for investor-owned utilities, to the governor-appointed Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The five-member board, which regulates the state’s electricity, natural gas, and telephone industries, is accepting public comments on the proposal through April 12.
Xcel’s plan calls for the utility to become carbon-free by 2050, meaning all power will come from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases: for example, hydroelectric and nuclear plants, or naturally renewable sources like wind and solar. The company plans to do this by massively expanding its green energy portfolio, closing its remaining coal plants by 2030, and phasing out use of natural gas.
Xcel also has proposed major improvements in energy efficiency programs to help customers save money and reduce their energy footprints.
But environmental groups feel the plan doesn’t go far enough, and that communities of color will bear the burden of its shortcomings.
“A lot of what they’re doing is heading in a good direction,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of Citizens Utility Board, a Minnesota nonprofit and consumer advocate group. “It could be a lot better.”
Passing on gas
The major point of contention for environmental activists and consumer advocates is Xcel’s plan to construct a new natural gas plant in Becker at the site of the current Sherco coal plant. This facility is scheduled to close in 2030.
Adding a new fossil fuel energy source—natural gas—will have a negative impact on the state, according to Ben Passer, director of energy access and equity for Fresh Energy, a Minnesota nonprofit working to promote a carbon-neutral economy. The harms will be more pronounced in communities of color, which disproportionately suffer from…