We provide 24/7/365 convenience for millions of customers who depend on us for the fundamentals—reliable, safe, affordable energy that is increasingly clean.
Xcel Energy electric reliability is among the top-one third of U.S. electric utilities, with customers having electricity service on average 99.9 percent of the time in 2016. When a major storm hits, we are prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to restore energy service, as has been demonstrated time and again in our own jurisdictions, as well as in other parts of the country where we have responded through mutual-aid agreements.
As we invest in strengthening and upgrading our pipes, wires and plants, we naturally consider projects that provide the best overall value for customers and the communities we serve. This includes diversifying our energy supply to provide energy from a reliable mix of resources while managing cost, environmental impact and making sure we are not too heavily dependent on any one energy source.
Over the past four years, the average Xcel Energy customer bill has gone down. That’s because we constantly seek ways to improve productivity, reduce costs and lower bills, while continuing to invest in our system and improve the service we provide.
*Source: SNL data for retail electric and natural gas sales; figures included are annual average of monthly bills.
We operate under carefully regulated conditions that are determined in part by state public utilities commissions—a governing body that regulates the rates and services of utilities such as ours. In exchange for the exclusive right to provide electricity and natural gas services in certain regions, we agree to the following regulatory compact:
In return, we are granted the ability to recover our costs of doing business and earn a reasonable rate of return. Although, this rate of return is not guaranteed—we have only the opportunity to earn it. To operate effectively in a closely regulated business like ours, it is imperative that we stay in sync with the current demands of the public and our policy makers.
Over the next five years, we have plans to invest $18.4 billion in projects that, in addition to ongoing maintenance and repair, will improve energy production, strengthen the energy grid, ensure security and offer customers more options.
Xcel Energy is investing in projects that offer the most value for customers
Xcel Energy produces and purchases electricity from a diverse mix of energy sources, including coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable power sources. In 2016, we delivered more than 111 million megawatt hours from our own generating plants and through power purchases.
We currently own about 17,600 megawatts of generation, mostly comprised of coal and natural gas, but this is changing as we continue to implement plans that rely less on coal and more on renewable energy and natural gas generation. From 2005 to 2026, we expect to retire more than 40 percent of the coal-fueled capacity we own.
As part of this transition, we continued construction of the new natural gas combustion turbine at the Black Dog Generating Plant in Burnsville, Minnesota. The 475-ton turbine and generator were lifted into place in early 2017—a major milestone for the project that replaces the plant’s last two coal units retired in 2015.
While Xcel Energy is recognized as the nation’s No. 1 utility wind provider, most of the wind on our system is provided under long-term power purchase agreements. This is changing as we invest in our “steel for fuel” strategy. We are capitalizing on historic-low wind prices and tax credits to install new wind farms—where the cost to build the projects is offset by future fuel savings. In 2016, our 200-megawatt Courtenay Wind Farm became fully operational, just 15 months after construction began. Located northeast of Jamestown, North Dakota, the project is significant because it is the first we have managed through construction.
We also own and operate 26 hydro plants in Colorado and the Upper Midwest. Our 19 hydro plants in Wisconsin and Michigan celebrated a record-breaking year in 2016 for generating electricity, thanks to some plant improvements and above average precipitation in the region. Over the last several years, we have upgraded some of the older units to increase capacity and efficiency.
Our two nuclear generating plants in the Upper Midwest also had increased performance in 2016, with our Monticello plant in Becker, Minnesota setting its own generation record and proving the value of a plant expansion project completed in 2015. Monticello also received an “exemplary” rating from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which provides independent verification of our safety and operating performance.
Both Monticello and our Prairie Island plant in Red Wing, Minnesota, play a vital role in delivering reliable base-load power that is emissions free. As part of our clean energy plans to reduce carbon emissions, we are committed to operating the plants through their licensing periods, which don’t expire until 2030.
Xcel Energy operates thousands of miles of lines, substations and other equipment that safely and reliably deliver electricity to customers.
Transmission lines are a vital link to bring electricity over long distances from power sources to substations closer to homes and businesses. Xcel Energy is one of the fastest growing, investor-owned transmission systems in the country.
In 2016, we energized nine new substations, upgraded 24 existing substations and placed into service more than 195 miles of new lines. A strong transmission system will ensure continued reliable and affordable service, meet state and regional energy policy goals, and support increased use of renewable energy.
In 2016, we continued to prove our value as a partner in building transmission. In Colorado, we completed a 20-mile 230-kilovolt line from Rifle to Parachute, Colorado, which crosses private property as well as public land operated by the Bureau of Land Management. The new line enhances the reliability of our system, helping to ensure we can meet anticipated load growth in the area.
Xcel Energy is constructing more than 400 miles of high voltage transmission line in Lea and Eddy counties in New Mexico as part of the Power for the Plains initiative now underway through 2020. In summer of 2016, crews conducting archaeological excavations for the project uncovered roughly 26,000 artifacts in Eddy County, including some that may date back over 5,000 years. Xcel Energy is collaborating with SWCA Environmental Consultants and the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management to conduct the work. After the artifacts are analyzed, they will be turned over to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe to be curated.
Technology, including the use of unmanned aircraft systems or drones, plays an exciting role in our future. In February of 2016, we became the first utility in the country to receive FAA approval to fly drones beyond line of sight to inspect a transmission line northwest of Amarillo, Texas. In early 2017, working with the FAA, we announced a first-of-its-kind “Partnership for Safety Plan” that will facilitate the use of drones in the National Airspace System. We plan to use the technology to inspect our 20,000 miles of transmission lines throughout our geographically diverse service territory.
To distribute electricity to the communities we serve, transformers on our systems reduce the voltage so it can be carried on smaller distribution lines to businesses, neighborhoods and homes. The distribution system includes substations, wires, poles, metering, billing and related support systems involved in the retail side of electricity delivery. Xcel Energy has more than 200,500 miles of distribution lines, more than 2,900 feeders and more than 3.4 million meters in the field.
The need to expand our distribution infrastructure and install new distribution equipment to meet population and demand growth requires continued investment. As we invest in distribution system upgrades, we are focusing on new technologies through our Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security initiative that will help us meet the increased demands of our digital society and communicate more effectively with our customers.
In 2016, we demonstrated that we are ready when customers need us most by successfully managing 12 major storm events, from tornadoes to extreme snow, wind and ice. In all situations, we were able to restore service to 84 percent of our customers within 12 hours and 95 percent within 24 hours, proving that our storm response is among the best in the industry.
In June 2016, our crews were honored with the Edison Electric Institute’s Emergency Recovery Award for quickly and safely restoring power and rebuilding our system after Storm Goliath hit our entire southern territory in Texas and New Mexico over Christmas in 2015.
According to the American Gas Association, Xcel Energy is the fourth largest provider of natural gas service in the country. We currently operate more than 2,400 miles of natural gas transmission and more than 34,000 miles of natural gas distribution pipelines to serve our customers in Colorado and the Upper Midwest.
We continue to upgrade and renew our natural gas pipelines and other equipment to ensure reliable and safe natural gas service for our customers. Low natural gas prices have made it possible to invest in our system and accelerate upgrades with minimal impact to customer bills.
In 2016, we completed two significant, multi-year projects. As part of the East Metro Gas Pipeline Replacement Project, we replaced 11.5 miles of pipeline originally installed in the 1940s and ‘50s in St. Paul and Roseville, Minnesota. The West Main Project in Colorado replaced 95 miles of 1920s-vintage transmission pipeline along the northern Front Range, from Westminster to the Wyoming border. Both projects successfully navigated complex terrain, including some very populated areas.
We also are finishing up work to install the two-mile high-pressure natural gas pipeline for the new combustion turbine at Black Dog plant in Minnesota. The pipeline project will be complete in 2017.
Xcel Energy purchases natural gas from third-party producers and relies on a consistent supply to generate electricity and distribute to customers for use in their homes and businesses. Natural gas production is governed by federal, state and local regulations, with additional regulations under consideration. We expect our suppliers to conduct their operations responsibly and in compliance with all regulatory requirements. We encourage our natural gas producers to adopt best practices and manage their environmental impact.
We are required by some state regulatory commissions to regularly conduct a system resource planning process. The process begins with Xcel Energy filing a proposed long-term resource plan with the regulatory commission, which is then evaluated by regulators, as well as environmental, business and community stakeholders. The plans generally assess the resources we need to serve our customers and meet future energy needs. They also discuss energy efficiency program goals and summarize transmission plans and other resources that we may need, based on our studies of future load growth.
Once the plan is approved, it may result in the need to add energy resources to serve our customers. We then release one or more requests for proposals, which may be general or targeted toward specific resources, such as natural gas or renewable energy. As the regulatory commissions decide on the resources to be acquired, our stakeholders have the opportunity to provide input.
Xcel Energy’s proposed resource plan for the Upper Midwest Was approved in 2016. The plan sets a course for transforming our system away from coal to cleaner energy sources and will result in a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions and a 63 percent carbon-free energy mix by 2030 for the region. Some of the highlights include more than doubling our use of renewable energy sources in the region and retiring two coal units at the Sherco Generating Plant in Becker, Minnesota in 2023 and 2026.
In Colorado, our resource plan is one of a number of initiatives we have proposed under the Our Energy Future initiative. The proposals pave the way for additional emission reductions and clean energy options for customers at an affordable price. In 2016, our proposal to build, own and operate the Rush Creek Wind Farm in Colorado was approved. Construction is now underway on the 600-megawatt project that will be one of the largest wind farms in the state. We also reached a global agreement on renewable energy issues that will expand our solar customer programs, test new billing plans and provide for greater stakeholder engagement. Through our Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security filing, we can provide customers with a smarter, more advanced energy infrastructure. A decision on this is expected in 2017.
Find more information about Renewable Energy Credits.
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