With support from stakeholders and regulators, we are voluntarily retiring half of our coal-fueled capacity by 2026 — a step that will significantly reduce emissions.
Our largest source of air and other emissions is the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, primarily from coal. For well over half a century, coal has been a steady source of low-cost, dependable electricity for our customers that we have carefully controlled and operated in an environmentally responsible manner.
Since the 1990s, we have worked with our states and other local stakeholders on proactive environmental projects that serve as a national model for addressing state air quality needs while providing operational flexibility and ensuring reliable, affordable energy for customers. We know that clean air and cleaner energy are priorities for the customers and communities we serve, and as a leader in this field, they continue to be our priorities too.
As the cost to generate electricity with natural gas and renewable sources declines and these technologies improve, the way we generate electricity is becoming progressively cleaner. We are moving away from coal to lead the transition to clean energy, especially now as we work to achieve our vision to serve customers with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. To fulfill this commitment, we plan to rely on the relationships we have built and our successful model for engaging stakeholders to find new solutions — solutions that will not only cut carbon, but have the added benefit of reducing other emissions and improving the environment overall.
Since 2005, we have reduced carbon emissions 38% from the electricity that serves customers.
We continued to decrease emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and particulate matter to levels that were 77%, 78%, 91% and 73% lower, compared to 2005.
Under the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory program, we have reduced releases by nearly 30%, compared to 2005 levels.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment through its Environmental Leadership Program recognized Xcel Energy as a Gold Leader for the company’s comprehensive Environmental Management System as well as its clean energy leadership and environmental stewardship.
Within our vehicle fleet, we essentially replace all sedans scheduled for retirement with electric vehicles. We estimate that our 43 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) helped to avoid emission of nearly 92 metric tons of carbon emissions for the year.
There is a significant shift in how we operate our power grid now compared to several decades ago. Not only are we changing the way we produce electricity, but the dispatch and operation of our generating resources is different too.
Through major clean energy initiatives in Colorado and Minnesota, we have retired coal units and replaced the power with cleaner, more flexible natural gas and wind and solar generation, and we have plans to do more. Last year, regulators approved our new Colorado Energy Plan that will retire two coal units and add thousands of megawatts of new wind, solar and battery storage, as well as existing natural gas. We also have approval to retire two coal units in Minnesota by 2026, and are moving forward with our multi-state wind initiative with 12 new wind farms to be completed in 2021.
As renewable energy gradually becomes the majority energy source on our system, we are focusing our operations to follow the wind and sun to maximize clean electricity production and do so reliably and cost effectively.
Advanced forecasting tools have dramatically improved the predictability of wind energy, making a variable energy source much more dependable. With reliable wind forecasts now available seven days in advance, we are able to make more accurate commitment and dispatch decisions associated with wind energy.
Cleaner natural gas generation is an excellent companion to renewable generation. It has long managed the variability of wind-power production, with natural gas units cycling up and down as needed to help meet electric loads as wind speeds rise and fall.
Several years ago, an Xcel Energy operations team began exploring how coal units could do the same, although ramping up and down coal units is much more challenging. Traditionally, coal units have provided baseload power for our system, with the capability to run dependably 24/7. The company’s coal plants began testing and learning their limitations, working around problems at lower load points and figuring out how to overcome them.
Today, this reduction in coal operations is creating additional system flexibility and helping to advance our transition to clean energy while reducing emissions and saving customers money. In 2018, our efforts to turn down and cycle off these units reduced coal generation by more than 788,000 megawatt hours, saving an estimated $1.6 million and avoiding approximately 886,000 tons of carbon dioxide, as well as other emissions.
For additional emissions reporting information for Xcel Energy and each of its operating systems, please see the Performance Summary.
Our fleet of about 7,000 vehicles includes everything from small cars to light trucks, bucket trucks, excavators and trailers. In 2014, our vehicles were equipped with telematics to reduce fuel costs and improve driver safety. Using the technology has reduced idling and fuel consumption, wear and tear on vehicles, and emissions. In 2018, we estimate that the use of telematics saved approximately 150,000 gallons of fuel at a value of more than $350,000.
The EPA has administered the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act or EPCRA since 1986. The program is intended to help communities protect residents from potential chemical hazards. Under EPCRA, residents have the “right-to-know” about chemicals in their communities. Each year facilities in specific industries that manufacture, process or use the nearly 650 substances identified under the program must report their releases to air, land and water. The EPA manages the information in a publicly available database under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program.
Xcel Energy supports this type of reporting and has participated since 1999 when the program was expanded to include electric utilities. We annually report to EPA our releases, which are the result of using coal, oil and refuse-derived fuel (processed municipal solid waste) to produce electricity. When these fuels are combusted, they release trace amounts of TRI reportable substances, including barium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and zinc.
TRI reportable substances are reported by facility and release type — land, air and water. A facility’s releases may change slightly from year to year based on the amount of electricity produced and the associated fuel that is consumed, as well as the fuel composition and mineralogy.
The vast majority of our TRI reportable substances are controlled at our facilities as part of the coal ash where they are contained, preventing them from entering the air. We capture about 95% of these substances and safely dispose of them in managed landfills.
Releases provided here are from 11 generating plants in locations throughout our service territory. For individual plant information visit the EPA’s TRI Explorer website or contact email@example.com.
Learn more about Xcel Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions
Find more detailed emissions reporting in the Performance Summary
Read about our Environmental Policy and Management.
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