Xcel Energy’s annual Red Wing community meeting Tuesday reflected life in the pandemic in several ways, including its virtual format and numerous references to how COVID-19 has changed plans and operations.
The state has asked utilities to assist with economic recovery. Xcel has offered a $3 billion proposal that would keep 5,000 people working, add 720 megawatts of wind and add 460 megawatts of solar power, said Chris Clark, Xcel Energy-Minnesota president.
The refueling of Prairie Island Unit 1 is being completed with fewer contractors and therefore less exposure to the new coronavirus, according to Chris Domingos, general manager at Prairie Island. Most of those contractors already have gone home and Unit 1 likely will be back at full power next week.
The refueling came after a continuous run of 670 days, Domingos said during the Oct. 6 "breakfast" presentation. That’s a plant record and among the top 10 in the industry, he added.
Michael Childs Jr., Prairie Island Tribal Council member and former nuclear plant worker, asked about the change in recent years to replace 50% of fuel rods instead of about a third during an outage.
“As our reliability and our performance of the plant continues to improve, we can stay at 100% power longer in that fashion and we can take advantage of putting more new fuel into the core to be able to provide more power for longer,” Domingos explained.
Nuclear power provided 28% of Xcel Energy’s power mix in 2019. The plan is to have it provide 27% by 2030, when coal notably will drop from 23% to zero as Xcel strives toward 100% carbon-free energy by 2050, Clark said.
The biggest changes in this decade will come with more wind energy --15% in 2019 to 26% in 2030 -- and solar energy -- from 3 to 16% -- to replace that coal. Natural gas will have to grow to increase reliability, but new technologies are on the horizon, he said.
“We’re happy with this story, but obviously looking to do more,” he said.
The integrated resource plan includes extending the Monticello nuclear plant’s single federal license for 20 years, but seeking only 10 years at the state level. A decision would come on the second 10 at that time.
There was no word of the future of the two-unit Prairie Island nuclear plant; the licenses expire 2033 and 2034. That will be part of the next resource plan filed with the state of Minnesota.
“We had enough on the plate with this resource plan that we really just wanted to focus on all the other things,” Clark said. “But we also wanted to have a good opportunity to be able to engage with the Prairie Island Indian Community and Red Wing as our host communities and have a good chance for input.”