Xcel Energy announced plans Tuesday to slash its emissions 80 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels and deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity to millions of customers in Colorado and seven other states by 2050.
Officials for the electric utility called it “the most ambitious [carbon reduction plans] announced to date within the electric power industry.”
“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,” said Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy, which is Colorado’s largest electric utility.
“You probably have seen the same kind of scientific reports coming out of the U.N. and U.S. that I have, and those studies suggest climate change isn’t getting any better, it’s getting worse, so when we step back as a company, we think about what more we can do,” Fowke said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.
“To us, using technology, we believe that we can do more, and why shouldn’t we do more if we can do more at basically the same cost?” Fowke said.
The technologies are not yet available on the commercial scale to actually reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, Fowke noted. But he said hopes that new technology will be developed in time put the goal within reach.
Those technologies include but aren’t limited to nuclear power, carbon capture and hydrogen power.
Xcel has made some strides toward the goal. This year, it built the largest wind-generating facility in the state, distributing 600 megawatts of energy to an estimated 325,000 homes. It’s projected to pump $1 billion into the Colorado economy and will help Xcel reach 55 percent renewable energy by 2026.
The announcement comes on the heels of the election victory by Gov.-elect Jared Polis. The Boulder congressman campaigned partly on the promise to move the state to 100 percent renewables by 2040.
With Xcel on board, Polis’ vision is more likely to become a reality.
“Xcel Energy’s exciting announcement today, along with the strong climate goals (that) communities like Pueblo, Summit County, Fort Collins, Denver and others across the state have embraced, show we are leading the way forward right here in Colorado — by committing to a renewable and clean energy future,” Polis said in a press release announcing the plan.
Environmental organizations also applauded the move.
“Clean energy is good for business, job creation, our health and the environment. Xcel knows this first hand, which is why it’s retiring and replacing its coal plants with solar, win, and battery storage,” said Zach Pierce, Sierra Club’s senior representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado. “Embracing this critical transition to clean energy will save customers millions on their energy bills and bring local economic investment to communities in Colorado.”
Environment Colorado Director Garrett Garner-Wells likewise praised Xcel, pointing toward the looming costs of fossil fuel reliance.
“The consequences of inaction keep getting worse, so we need to do all we can as fast as we can,” Garner-Wells said. “Xcel’s announcement shows that the writing’s on the wall for fossil fuels and dirty energy, while setting the bar for utilities in Colorado and nationwide.”
Pierce and Garner-Wells encouraged other utilities in Colorado to follow Xcel Energy’s lead.
In September, Colorado Springs Utilities moved to generate more than a fifth of its electricity using solar power after it adds 150 megawatts of renewable energy to its portfolio.
The purchase was part of Utilities’ 2016 Electric Integrated Resource Plan, which set goals for the organization to produce a fifth of its energy through renewable means with no more than a 1 percent increase to the average electric bill by 2020.
The board approved two solar array projects in 2018, totaling 95 megawatts, which boosted Utilities’ renewable portfolio from 9 percent to 15 percent with a 0.95 percent estimated increase on the average bill.
Fowke said it will be challenging to get Public Utilities Commission approval, as well as the legislative steps necessary to advance the plan, particularly as it relates to increasing the amount of research and development 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.”
Reporter David O. Williams contributed to this story.