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A Carbon-free Future

Energy is an essential service that powers the economy and provides comfort and security. As we lead the clean energy transition, we will ensure that customers have energy when they need it, at an affordable price.

We know that climate change is an urgent issue for many of our policy makers and investors and is a growing concern of our customers who want to help make a difference. It is a priority for us as well, and is the reason we were the first major energy company in the nation to announce a vision to serve customers with 100% carbon-free electricity.

Planning for this transition to a clean energy future today will allow us to deliver the products our customers want and achieve reductions that our policy makers and investors are increasingly demanding. By acting now, we increase our ability to achieve our goals while assuring that our system remains reliable and our energy service affordable.

2018 Results

We established our bold, new vision to provide customers with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 from the electricity that serves our customers. To successfully make this transition, we must also maintain the reliable, affordable energy that customers expect.

Climate modeling experts from the University of Denver, led by a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, analyzed our carbon goals and concluded they are consistent with electric sector emissions in scenarios likely to achieve the temperature targets of the Paris climate agreement.

Our carbon emissions continue to decline. Since 2005, we have decreased carbon emissions 38% from electricity that serves our customers — an additional 3% reduction compared to 2017 levels. Our reduction levels surpass the U.S. commitment under the Paris climate agreement, which called for a 26% to 28% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, and the EPA Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced carbon emissions 32% by 2030.

For 13 consecutive years, our carbon reporting has been third-party verified in accordance with The Climate Registry — we are the only electric utility with this length of consecutive verified data.

Since Xcel Energy became a member of EPA's Natural Gas STAR program in 2008, we have reduced methane emissions by more than 350 million cubic feet while expanding our miles of pipe 6%.

Our Pathway to a Low-carbon Future

As we produce energy to serve our customers, we emit greenhouse gases. Our primary source of these emissions is from the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, which makes up 99% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly all of our generation-related emissions are carbon dioxide. Because of this, it makes sense that our clean energy strategy focus primarily on reducing carbon emissions from electricity.

To achieve our carbon vision, we will continue working with our states and stakeholders. Our interim goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 is based on absolute, company-wide emissions from the electricity that serves our retail and wholesale customers, measured from a 2005 baseline. Likewise, our aspiration to serve customers with carbon-free electricity by 2050 is company-wide.

Currently, we are implementing plans to achieve our previous goal to reduce carbon emissions 60% by 2030, from 2005 levels. Our state regulatory commissions have already approved the following efforts underway:

We also are working on plans that take us all the way to reduce carbon emissions 80%. This is not a single plan, and will happen through a series of resource plans to be approved through our state regulatory processes.

In setting our goals, we did sensitivity analysis to identify key elements and variables that could affect our plans for reaching the interim goal. There are a variety of cost-effective pathways to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030, and we know the following common elements will be part of the plans:

Looking beyond 2030 to our 2050 100% carbon-free aspiration, we will need new, 24/7 carbon-free technologies that are not yet commercially available at the cost and scale needed. These are technologies that can integrate high levels of renewables, balancing the peaks when customer use exceeds renewable generation and valleys when renewable generation exceeds customer use. To ensure these technologies are ready when we need them at an affordable price, there must be more research, innovation and development done today. Technology advancement is key to the long-term success of our strategy, and it has a long lead time for development.

Scientific Analysis

The most recent climate science informed our carbon vision, which is designed to minimize the long-term risks associated with climate change. After reviewing international and national climate reports released in 2018, we hired an IPCC lead author and other climate modeling experts with the University of Denver to understand how our vision relates to global temperature goals. They consulted the newest International Panel on Climate Change emission scenarios database and analyzed carbon emissions for the electric sector in industrialized countries, within the scenarios that have a high (66% or greater) probability of achieving the 2 C goal and those more likely than not (50% or greater) to achieve the 1.5 C goal.

The dark gray shaded area in the chart above represents the range from the highest to the lowest of these emission scenarios. The climate modeling experts then compared Xcel Energy’s carbon emission reduction trajectory, including carbon reductions to date and the 2030 and 2050 goals. Based on their analysis, our reduction targets are clearly consistent with — even on the low end of — the electric sector reductions in scenarios that achieve the international 2 C goal. Even more encouraging, this analysis shows that our emission trajectory is also consistent with the more aggressive 1.5 C goal.

Driving Change

We believe reducing carbon emissions reliably and affordably must be the top priority of our clean energy transition. To achieve this, we need to be disciplined and focus on efforts that will produce the greatest carbon reductions at the lowest cost to customers.

We have identified the following drivers that will make the change possible:

While our vision is ambitious, we believe these drivers implemented together will make it possible to transform our operations and the industry overall. Our plan is to continue working proactively and collaboratively in all these areas and to advance the solutions that emerge.

Energy and Carbon Emissions Reporting

Xcel Energy supports timely, transparent public reporting of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Our comprehensive greenhouse gas reporting, from all parts of our business, is based on The Climate Registry and its Electric Power Sector Protocol, which aligns with the World Resources Institute and ISO 14000 series standards.

We joined The Climate Registry as a founding member in 2007 to help establish a consistent and transparent standard for calculating, verifying and reporting greenhouse gases. Through The Climate Registry, we annually third-party verify, register and publicly disclose our greenhouse gas emissions.

We report carbon emissions from electric generating plants that we own and from electricity that we purchase from others. We sell a small portion of the electricity we generate into the market to retailers outside our service territory. The carbon emissions from these off-system sales are excluded from our goal and associated carbon reporting because the energy does not serve our customers. Also, it is likely that companies purchasing the energy account for the emissions in their reporting, so excluding the carbon emissions associated with off-system sales from our reporting avoids double counting.

2018 emission levels shown here are preliminary and may slightly change as they go through third-party verification, due by the end of 2019.

Our progress toward a carbon-free future.

The pie charts show all the electric generation on Xcel Energy’s system by fuel type. They include electricity produced at the company’s power plants, purchased from others and supplied for customers participating in renewable choice programs (Windsource®, Renewable*Connect®, Solar*Rewards® and Solar*Rewards Community®.)

Xcel Energy receives a Renewable Energy Credit (REC) for every megawatt hour of renewable electricity generated. RECs are retired to meet renewable portfolio standards and the Certified Renewable Percentage, saved for future compliance or sold depending on market opportunities. Find information about REC sales under Renewable Energy.

For our full carbon emissions reporting, see the Performance Summary. Customers looking for carbon emissions intensities for their own reporting can find this information on xcelenergy.com.

Methane Emissions and the Role of Natural Gas

Our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also include methane emissions — a primary concern for the natural gas value chain. We are actively involved in programs that work to address the supply, midstream, distribution and consumer use of natural gas that are important to maintaining the industry’s ability to operate. Xcel Energy serves about 2 million customers with natural gas for heating and other energy uses critical to the colder parts of our territory, Colorado and Minnesota, and does so with minimal methane emissions.

Methane emissions make up a small part of our total greenhouse emissions — less than 1% of our total greenhouse gas emissions (190,249 metric tons CO2e) in 2018. Nevertheless, we strive to operate the cleanest distribution system possible and minimize our methane emissions through cost-effective improvements to our natural gas system. 

We have achieved these reductions through voluntary efforts. Since 2008, we have participated in EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program, and we are a founding member of the program’s Methane Challenge launched in 2016. Through the Methane Challenge, we plan to reduce methane releases more than 50% from the venting of pipelines during scheduled construction. We are also investing in operational improvements that not only reduce methane emissions but improve the overall safety and efficiency of the natural gas system for customers.  These improvements include:

In addition to these programs, we are collaborating within the natural gas industry on initiatives that support our own proactive approach to operating and maintaining a natural gas system. For example, we are members of the Natural Gas Downstream Initiative, a collaborative effort with other major gas utilities, facilitated by MJ Bradley & Associates, focused on addressing the regulatory and technical issues related to the role of natural gas in a low-carbon future.

Beyond our direct distribution operations, we also recognize that most greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural gas are in other parts of the value chain. This includes methane emissions from upstream sources through the production, compression and long-distance transmission of natural gas and carbon emissions from downstream, end-use consumers. We participate in the Natural Gas Supply Collaborative, a group of natural gas producers calling for transparency and sustainability from upstream suppliers. Our industry associations, the American Gas Association and the Edison Electric Institute, are also partnering to understand methane emissions and enhance disclosures across the value chain. 

For our customers who use natural gas, we are exploring opportunities to offer low-carbon solutions. We already provide a comprehensive portfolio of natural gas efficiency programs, but are exploring new technologies and methods to help our customers further reduce their carbon footprints. We see great potential for renewable natural gas to provide a lower carbon alternative and the potential for targeted, strategic electrification, such as water heaters, that could be powered with clean, renewable energy. As always, we are monitoring long-term technologies, such as hydrogen or power-to-gas, which could fundamentally shift natural gas supply and related carbon emissions. 

Additional Resources

Learn more about our renewable energy plansenergy efficiency, efforts to protect air quality and plans for our conventional generating fleet.

Read Xcel Energy's Carbon Report.

Find more information on physical and financial risks associated with Climate Change in Xcel Energy's 2018 Form 10K

Learn about our executive long-term incentive program that includes carbon dioxide emission reductions in Xcel Energy's 2019 Proxy Statement.

Read our CDP Climate Change Questionnaire

Find Xcel Energy's reporting for the EEI Environmental, Social, Governance, and Sustainability Template.

Learn more about The Climate Registry, U.S. EPA greenhouse gas mandatory greenhouse gas reporting, the WRI protocol and ISO 14000.

A Carbon-free Future (PDF)

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