On Thursday, Minnesota regulators approved a plan by Xcel Energy to more than double the amount of wind and solar which it procures over the next 15 years, to reach 1.4 GW of solar and 1.8 GW of wind by 2030. This will include projects which Xcel either owns or buys power from through long-term contracts.
In the shorter term, Xcel’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) states that the utility expects to procure at least 650 MW of solar by 2021 through the state’s community solar program “or other cost-effective solar”. Minnesota set ambitious plans for its community solar program in 2013 but progress has been slow, with advocates blaming Xcel’s interconnection process. Regardless, over 100 MW of projects are now under construction.
The IRP also includes plans to shut down the two units that comprise a 1.5 GW coal plant in 2023 and 2026, as well as reducing energy use and making greater use of demand response. As the result of all this, wind and solar are expected to represent 33% of the electricity generation in Xcel’s Minnesota service area by 2030.
Minnesota law already requires that Xcel source 31.5% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020, with a minimum of 25% from wind and solar. Based on those numbers, the utility’s IRP is not very ambitious regarding expansion of wind and solar in the 2020-2030 time frame.
Regardless, clean energy advocates had described Xcel’s initial filing in January 2015 as “impressive”, and noted that progress had been made as the document evolved. In particular, Sierra Club notes that over 10,000 Minnesota residents submitted comments calling for a transition away from coal to clean energy.
“The state approved the lowest-cost plan – affordable, reliable, low carbon – in approving Xcel’s proposal to replace coal with clean energy,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy. “All Xcel customers will benefit from this clean pathway forward.”
Xcel’s next Minnesota IRP will be filed in 2019.