ST. PAUL — Members of a local environmentalist group on Monday, Oct. 28, criticized Xcel Energy's proposed electric power generation plan for the next 15 years, saying the company is not going far enough in its pledge to cut carbon emissions.
The utility has publicly stated its intent to be coal-free by 2030, but members of the St. Paul chapter of MN350 and others who attended a public hearing on the plan said Monday night that Xcel's goal of establishing a natural gas plant in Becker, Minn., still puts the state's environment at risk. Objections were also raised against the utility's plan to operate its nuclear plant in Monticello until 2040, 10 years long than it originally intended.
"It's way too little and way too slow," said Dennis Thompson, one of several dozen residents who attended Monday's meeting in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.
Xcel filed its energy plan for its Upper Midwest region, which would extend from 2020 to 2034, with the state Public Utilities Commission in early July. It had earlier announced that it would shutter both the Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights, Minn., and the Sherco 3 plant in Becker by 2030 — a decade ahead of schedule.
Conservationist groups including the Sierra Club praised the plan for its promise to cut the company's carbon emissions by more than 80 percent of their 2005 levels by 2030. With wind and solar expansions planned for 2020 and 2030, respectively, company officials have said more than half of the energy their customers consume will come from renewable resources by 2030.
By 2050, officials have said, the utility will produce "100 percent carbon-free electricity."
But by betting on natural gas in the near future, MN350 spokesperson Chelsea DeArmond argued Monday that Xcel will effectively limit the ability of individual municipalities to set and meet their own carbon emissions limits.
"Receiving a cleaner energy mix from our utility partner Xcel could make the difference in (St. Paul's) success or failure at reaching our emissions reductions goals," DeArmond said during the hearing.
Still, not all of the things said about the plan were negative. DeArmond spoke positively of Xcel's plan to scale up solar operations, for example, and others in attendance speculated that it could create new job opportunities.
Among the things it leaves out, critics said, was a way to make energy more affordable for lower-income Minnesotans. Several people who attended Monday's meeting suggested that Xcel make more of an effort to establish community solar gardens, or offer credit for building owners that make energy efficiency upgrades that can be passed on to their tenants.
Bria Shea, an analysis director with Xcel, said the comments specific to the company's natural gas plans would not go unaddressed. She cautioned that the Becker plant, for example, is subject to a separate process that includes carbon emissions analyses.
"We've got more to come," she said.
The Public Utilities Commission is accepting comments on the plan by mail and online through Jan. 8, 2020.