Renewable energy plays a vital and growing role in our energy supply and future plans for meeting customer needs. Increasingly, the customers and communities we serve want their energy from clean, renewable sources, and we are delivering.
Xcel Energy is fortunate to operate in regions considered rich in wind and sun for producing power, and we are putting these resources to work. In 2017, we had more than 8,000 megawatts of utility-scale renewable capacity on our systems serving all customers. We also offer a growing selection of programs for customers who want more, including Windsource®, Solar*Rewards®, Solar*Rewards Community®, Renewable*Connect® and Solar*Connect Community®.
Today wind energy is a low-cost, reliable and fundamental part our energy supply. Not only do wind projects help reduce carbon emissions and improve our overall environmental footprint, they also produce significant financial savings by reducing fuel and other costs over time. As a national leader in wind energy, we operate about 7 percent of the nation’s wind capacity, and have plans for more. We’ve committed to expanding our wind capacity by 55 percent through 12 new wind projects, with nearly all of the projects installed in 2020 to take advantage of full production tax credits.
With our significant wind resources, we have extensive experience acquiring, managing and operating wind generation. Nearly two decades ago, we began adding wind to our energy mix, as the public became more interested and our states began setting some of the nation’s first renewable energy standards. Rather than waiting to respond, we chose to be an early adopter, which required that we break new ground and develop the expertise to integrate significant wind resources as part of our energy supply. We refined our operating practices and collaborated to develop an advanced forecasting system that makes wind energy a more predictable energy source for serving our customers today.
When your service territory produces some of the best wind resources in the country, it makes both economic and environmental sense to build in your own backyard. Xcel Energy took its Steel for Fuel growth strategy to another level in 2017 by proposing the largest multi-state wind investment in the country — a dozen wind farms in seven states. Xcel Energy, a national leader in wind energy since 2005, will become the first U.S. utility to surpass 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity once all the projects are installed.
Under Steel for Fuel we are adding low-cost wind energy to benefit customers, where the cost to build the wind farms is more than offset by billions of dollars in fuel savings over the lives of the projects. It resonates with constituents across the spectrum because it delivers carbon-free renewable energy without raising customer bills. Building and owning wind farms also provides an attractive organic growth opportunity for shareholders — our proposal will more than quadruple our company-owned wind portfolio.
We are building wind farms throughout our wind-rich service territory — from Upper Midwest farmland through the plains of eastern Colorado to the Texas-New Mexico border. This proposal showcases our ability to move swiftly, taking advantage of the federal production tax credit before it begins to phase down.
Building wind farms and the accompanying substations and transmission lines needed to deliver the energy to the marketplace provides a powerful source of economic development in rural America. Our multi-state proposal is expected to create 2,700 construction jobs and 150 full-time positions, and generate $800 million in landowner lease and property tax payments over the lives of the projects.
By 2022, we project that 40 percent of our energy will be supplied by wind — double the amount on our system in 2017. Our proposed wind farms are expected to generate enough clean energy to power 1.7 million homes and avoid 142 million tons of carbon emissions over the projects’ lifetimes.
Just as we are committed to wind energy, we are dedicated to meeting customer demand for clean, renewable energy from the sun. In 2017, we achieved a significant milestone as we doubled solar energy production for the year. This included generation from all types of solar — including large solar plants to community gardens and private, rooftop panels.
We currently have more than 700 megawatts of solar capacity on our systems from large-scale projects, and expect this to increase in the future under the Colorado Energy Plan and other initiatives. These large solar power plants are currently the most cost effective form of solar generation, providing energy at about half the cost of rooftop panels and producing about 50 percent more energy panel per panel. They benefit from a number of efficiencies, including economies of scale, site locations that maximize sun exposure, and technology enhancements, such as sun tracking, that help capture the full power of the sun.
In 2017, we added the 100-megawatt Aurora Solar Park in the Upper Midwest. The project includes 16 large solar installations located throughout Minnesota that together can power, on average, more than 17,000 homes. Xcel Energy purchases the power from Enel Green Power North America, Inc.
We launched our first community solar garden program, Solar*Rewards Community, in Colorado back in 2012, when at the time, it was one of the nation’s first programs of its kind. Solar*Rewards Community continues to grow and was expanded to Minnesota about five years ago, where it has become the country’s largest community solar garden program, significantly outpacing all others, according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance.
In Wisconsin, our Solar*Connect Community is the state’s largest community solar program. Under this program, the first one-megawatt solar garden came online in Eau Claire in 2017, and we announced similar projects near La Crosse and Ashland in response to customer interest.
Finally, we also offer incentives to customers who want to install their own solar panels in Colorado and Minnesota. By the end of 2017, nearly 37,000 customer-sited solar installations were installed under the program, totaling about 340 megawatts-DC.
Find Xcel Energy's renewable capacity by resource type and region in our Performance Summary (PDF).
The significant wind and solar resources on our systems have fundamentally changed the way we operate. With each increase in renewable capacity, we have improved system operations, enabling our ability to incrementally grow the use of wind and solar power and set new system records. Our most significant milestone occurred on March 6, 2017, when renewable energy provided nearly 58 percent of our customers’ energy for an entire hour throughout our service territory.
Some of our operational improvements for accommodating more wind and solar energy include:
Generally, we find that wind and solar are very compatible resources for meeting customer needs. Solar production happens during the day but starts to taper off just as our customers’ load starts to increase around sunset. About this same time, wind production typically starts to increase. Because of this inverse relationship, wind and solar can generally complement each other to meet customer needs around the clock.
While solar energy is relatively simple to forecast, wind generation has been notoriously difficult because of its variability. Most weather forecasting models are designed to generate information about winds near ground level rather than at 200 to 300 feet, where turbine hubs are located. Also, landscape features such as hills and trees can reshape wind speeds and directions, causing turbulence in ways that can greatly influence the amount of energy produced.
To improve on this, we began working in 2009 on a multi-year research and development project with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its affiliate company Global Weather Corp. (GWC). Today the WindWX system helps utilities around the globe including Xcel Energy to make better commitment and dispatch decisions. It uses real-time, turbine-level operating data and applies sophisticated algorithms to forecast the amount of wind power that will be produced. Forecasts for a 168-hour period are provided every 15 minutes across Xcel Energy’s entire service territory — from the hills of western Minnesota to the plains of eastern Colorado and the Texas Panhandle.
Xcel Energy’s Colorado system is somewhat unique in that it is relatively small and serves a limited geographic area, which presents greater challenges for integrating high levels of wind and solar energy. Because of this, we continue to explore opportunities for increasing the flexibility of our Colorado system. As a step in this direction, we began the joint dispatch of Xcel Energy’s resources with the resources of other Colorado utilities in 2017 to allow for more efficient and cost-effective, real-time system operations. For economic and system reliability reasons, we need to curtail wind operations throughout the year. Through the use of joint dispatch, as well as coal retirements that provide room on the system for other generation, we were able to reduce wind curtailments by more than one-third, from about 3.1 percent in 2016 to 1.9 percent in 2017.
Xcel Energy is on pace to surpass renewable energy requirements in the states we serve through at least 2030. New Mexico is an exception, where the company anticipates meeting the state’s wind energy requirement through 2024 and has requested a waiver for acquiring additional solar energy from large, universal solar power plants due to constraints under the state’s Reasonable Cost Threshold (RCT).
|Colorado Renewable Energy Standard||20 percent||30 percent by 2020||30 percent of retail sales by 2020, with 3 percent from distributed generation (DG), including at least 1.5 percent from retail net-metered DG resources and up to 1.5 percent from wholesale DG resources (defined as resources ≤30 megawatts located in Colorado)|
|Michigan Renewable Portfolio Standard||10 percent||
12.5 percent by 2019;
|Goal of 35 percent by 2025|
|Minnesota Renewable Portfolio Standard||25 percent||31.5 percent by 2020||30 percent of retail sales by 2020, with at least 24 percent from wind, plus 1.5 percent of retail sales from solar by 2020, with at least 10 percent of this from on-site solar under 20 kW|
|New Mexico Renewable Portfolio Standard||15 percent||20 percent by 2020||Solar 20 percent by 2020, Wind 30 percent by 2020, Other 5 percent by 2020, DG 3 percent by 2020 (Xcel Energy is not required to procure additional solar energy because it has already exceeded the state's Reasonable Cost Threshold)|
|North Dakota Renewable and Recycled Energy Objective||10 percent||Voluntary||No RPS Requirement for ND|
|South Dakota Renewable, Recycled and Conserved Energy Objective||10 percent||Voluntary||No RPS Requirement for SD|
|Texas Renewable Generation Requirement||Statewide Goal||10,000 MW statewide by 2025 (goal achieved) & (non-wind goal: 500MW)||Xcel Energy's portion is approximately 3.3percent of the statewide goal (the 3.3 percent is based on Xcel Energy TX Electric retail sales as a percentage of the total TX electric retail sales)|
|Wisconsin Renewable Portfolio Standard||12.89 percent|
A renewable energy certificate or credit (REC) is created for every megawatt-hour of renewable electricity generated (1 REC = 1 MWh). RECS provide a mechanism to commoditize renewable energy attributes and are tracked in national commission-approved REC tracking registries. RECs can be disaggregated or separated from the underlying renewable energy and sold separately. Typically, RECs are traded to companies looking to claim green energy or transferred to other utilities to reduce compliance costs.
Xcel Energy uses RECs to satisfy compliance with state renewable energy standards throughout our service territory. Our company carefully tracks its REC ownership and works to comply with the rules and best practices around renewable energy claims. Only parties that own and retire RECs can claim to use the renewable energy, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides. However, renewable energy separated from or without the associated REC can retain its value and be used for compliance with environmental regulations.
In 2017, we continued to look for ways to increase the value of the renewable energy on our systems through the sale of RECs. In several states, Xcel Energy has more renewable energy on its system than is needed for compliance with renewable energy standards. Based on market opportunities and the projected shelf life of RECs, we sold more than seven million RECs in 2017, about three million more than in 2016. The renewable energy that generated these RECs came from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and the Upper Midwest. Our customers benefit by sharing portions of these profits associated with the sales. REC sales make up a minor portion of our REC holdings.
Find our 2017 carbon dioxide emissions.
Learn more about our renewable energy programs for customers.
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