By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For as long as electricity has been generated, power companies have relied on burning coal. Xcel Energy is now taking the bold step to move away from the fossil fuel in favor of cleaner alternatives.

Its goal is to end all coal burning by 2030.

Against a backdrop of debate over global climate change, this is truly a remarkable announcement. A major utility that once generated more than half of its electricity by burning coal will be free of it in just 11 short years.

“By 2030 if our plan is approved they’ll be no coal in our system,” Xcel Energy president and CEO Ben Fowke said.

Fowke says that makes both economic and environmental sense. As costs of renewable energy production continue to plummet, burning carbon emitting coal is getting priced out of the equation.

“We believe we can do this and, importantly, do it and make sure our price stays affordable for customers and our product stays reliable,” Fowke said.

To do that Xcel will shut down all three Sherco coal burning units and convert a portion to natural gas. The Allen S. King coal plant will be retired in 2028. Environmental groups applaud the decision.

“Folks have this idea that renewable energy is expensive, but really it’s the cheapest alternative we’ve got now,” Fowke said.

Replacing over 2,700 megawatts of electric capacity will come several ways, by nearly tripling solar energy production and installing more natural gas peaking plants. Xcel will also extend the life of the Monticello nuclear plant through 2040 and step up conservation efforts.

“And as we go through we realize the cheapest way to get renewable clean energy is to not have to use it in the first place.So the investments in energy efficiency are a significant part of this agreement,” Aaron Klemz, of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said.

Xcel is assuring labor that job losses will be offset by gains in constructing and operating its clean energy economy.

Xcel’s plan will need the approval of the Public Utilities Commission. It will be formally submitted to the PUC on July 1.

Eliminating all natural gas generation by 2050 will allow Xcel reach its goal of 100-percent carbon-free electricity.

  1. Stephanie Sophia Aaron says:

    I live in Brainerd and see and hear long trains go through from the coal mines with up to 125 cars – how will the shut down affect the railroad industry as well? Most here won’t miss the long waits at crossings but just saying a lot of jobs will be affected besides the coal miners and the fossil fuel burning electrical plants – I am all for clean energy.