Minneapolis-based utility giant Xcel Energy is committing to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2030, en route to a zero-carbon target by 2050, while maintaining affordability and reliability in the eight U.S. states where it operates—even though it doesn’t believe the technologies are currently available at scale to deliver on its promise.
“If we put our minds to it, we will find the best solution to get us there,” said CEO Ben Fowke. “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.”
“We’re accelerating our carbon reduction goals because we’re encouraged by advances in technology, motivated by customers who are asking for it, and committed to working with partners to make it happen,” he added in a prepared statement.
The utility’s options “could include everything from carbon capture to nuclear energy and potentially state-level legislation giving Xcel the ability to add ‘research and design’ on top of its work generating power,” the Colorado Sun reports. “It’s notable that Xcel is aiming for zero carbon emissions and not 100% renewable energy generation, suggesting that carbon capture is expected to play a significant role in the plan.”
Greentech Media says Xcel’s move could “pre-empt a messy battle over renewable energy mandates,” and the Sun notes that Colorado Governor-elect Jared Polis ran on a campaign promise to shift the state to 100% renewables by 2040. “It’s not only about carbon; it’s also about cleaner air, which means people will be healthier,” Polis told participants during the public launch of the Xcel plan. “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.”
Fowke said the 80% by 2030 target “will be fairly easy and affordable to meet with currently available technologies,” Greentech reports. “The large investor-owned utility has already succeeded in reducing carbon emissions 35% below 2005 levels, in an effort to shrink its carbon footprint 60% by 2030. Xcel doubled down on its decarbonization efforts earlier this year in announcing a plan to retire two of its coal-fired power units in Colorado and replace them with a US$2.5-billion investment in renewables and battery storage.”
But “getting all the way to 100% clean electricity is the tough part, as it will require deploying technologies that are not currently cost-effective or are commercially unavailable.”
U.S. Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp called Xcel’s “groundbreaking climate commitment” an act of “true leadership”. Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of the U.S. Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said the announcement was proof that “investing in clean energy is smart for business, local economies, and jobs.” Sierra Club still criticized the utility for “continuing to invest in fossil fuels in the upper Midwest, with a recently-announced plan to add more natural gas,” Greentech notes.