Split personalities are a common psychological disorder that can be controlled by therapy and medication. That is if the personality disorder is afflicting a person. When the disorder is exhibited by a utility, there is no easy cure.
Minnesota-based XCEL Energy, by all observations, exhibits signs of a debilitating personality disorder. The utility giant has at least two distinguishable personalities. One is that of a responsible corporate citizen, a steward of the environment, an advocate of clean energy, and a leader in the effort to reduce the carbon pollution that is melting the arctic, warming the oceans, and causing extreme weather. This is the Green XCEL.
The Black XCEL is the typical profit-motivated utility more concerned about share price and CEO bonuses than the environment. This XCEL is content to use the gains of the Green XCEL as a smoke screen to hide the fact the Black XCEL is negating the utilities overall net carbon reduction.
The Green XCEL announced a fourth wind farm in its Border Winds Project in Minnesota and North Dakota. The company said this “brings to 750 megawatts the total new wind proposed by Xcel Energy in the region.” Company-wide they are proposing to add a total of at least 1,650 megawatts of wind resources, a 30% increase in overall wind capacity.
The company boasts that the Border Winds Project “would reduce customer costs by an estimated $45 million over the project’s life. The total amount saved from the four Upper Midwest projects is expected to be more than $220 million.” They estimated that the Border Winds Project “would reduce carbon dioxide emissions an average of 320,000 tons annually in Xcel Energy’s NSP service territory, where the company already is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 from 2005 levels.”
Meanwhile Black XCEL seems to be on a path to negate many of the gains Green XCEL is making. Colorado is an example. For several years, XCEL was an active partner in Colorado’s efforts for renewable energy. It entered into PPAs that made Colorado a national leader in wind and solar energy. Then something seemed to change.
Last year XCEL, over the objection of environmental groups and the solar industry, convinced the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to change the formula for allocating incentives for solar energy, a move that favored large projects at the expense of small projects. The net effect was an overall reduction in solar incentives by half.
Basking in last year’s victory, XCEL is now going after net metering in Colorado. XCEL has proposed a change in its 2014 Renewable Energy Standard (RES) compliance plan that would discourage net-metered solar energy growth in its territory. XCEL bases this on an in-house study that has never been vetted by outside groups or regulators.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) joined other renewable energy advocates, businesses, and environmental groups to urge the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to reject a new proposal from Xcel Energy. The groups argue that the Xcel study and its proposal do not fairly value the many benefits that net-metered solar delivers to Colorado. When determining the value of net-metered solar, both costs and benefits must be considered industry groups said in a release.
“Solar is helping Colorado families, schools, and businesses take charge of their power supply and their electricity bills like never before,” the solar advocates said. “Distributed, local rooftop solar also delivers innumerable benefits to the electrical grid, which Xcel unfairly discounts in its study. Private investments in local clean energy deliver economic, environmental and public health benefits XCEL’s solar and non-solar customers alike,” citing that Colorado generates enough solar energy to power 50,500 homes.
In addition, they say solar benefits the grid. Local solar energy systems can reduce the need for expensive centralized power plants and transmission infrastructure, which benefits Colorado’s non-solar customers. In addition, solar energy companies employ 3,600 Coloradoans. In 2012, $187 million was invested in Colorado to install solar on homes and businesses.
It remains to be seen which XCEL will prevail. At this point the PUC is the treating psychiatrist, and that is scary.