Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy - Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, addresses Red Wing area community leaders Oct. 15, 2019, at Prairie Island. He said the utility's leadership team is "excited but practical" as the company strives to achieve carbon-free electrical generation by 2050. Anne Jacobson / RiverTown Multimedia

Xcel Energy issued a call for community engagement in the utility’s latest resource plan filled with state and federal authorities.

Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, dug into some details Tuesday, Oct. 15, during an annual community breakfast at Prairie Island Indian Community’s Treasure Island. Those include making nuclear power generation more flexible.

One of the potentially more contentious parts of the plan, Clark acknowledged, is to keep natural gas production and possibly expand it as the company works toward carbon emission reduction of 80% by 2030 and with the goal of hitting 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.

“There will be a pretty health debate around that,” Clark said. “We don’t want to run the gas full out, but we want it there so that when we don’t have the solar and wind along to help provide the clean energy -- along with the nuclear -- so that we have something to rely on.”

Step 1: Hit 80%.

“We know how to do that,” Clark said.

As he explained later, Xcel has closed one coal-burning plant in Becker, Minn., and a second will close in 2030. The coal plant in Hudson, Wis., will close in 2028. That will take coal-generated electricity off Xcel’s system in the Upper Midwest and reduce air emission substantially.

Step 2: Go carbon-free.

“That’s an aspiration,” he said. “We don’t know how to do that.”

So why put carbon-free generation goal out there, he asked rhetorically. This lets staff and the public know Xcel is serious.

Innovation and emerging technologies will play roles as will the addition of 3,000 to 4,000 megawatts of solar energy with some wind.

The company also will continue operating its three-unit nuclear fleet in Minnesota through current licenses -- 2033- 2034 for Prairie Island’s Unit 1 and Unit 2 in Red Wing and 2030 for Monticello.

Prairie Island licensing

Xcel is allowed to ask regulators to extend those licenses by 20 years each. The company has broken down such a request for Monticello into 10-year increments.

“There could be a lot of change that happens between now and 2040,” he said, adding that Xcel then may look at extending from 2040 to 2050.

“For the Prairie Island units, we don’t need to make that decision in this resource plan,” he said.

Tim O’Connor, chief nuclear officer, explained how the nuclear fleet is moving to flexible operation, feeding the grid when solar and wind generation falls, and then scaling back when the sun shines and the wind blows.

The Minnesota fleet could eventually divert excess nuclear power to innovative efforts such as hydrogen production, another source of clean energy. Xcel has received a grant to pursue this, O'Connor announced.

Clark predicts a lively debate ahead between advocates and opponents of nuclear and natural gas in the next two years. Host communities of existing facilities will want to speak up, he added.

“We want to make that your voices aren’t drowned out by the noisy advocates who are rightfully playing in this proceeding, too,” Clark said. “That’s my invitation to you.”He predicted a healthy, lively debate

“We are adding wind and solar. Combined with our nuclear units, that gives us an amazing amount of carbon-free energy,” Clark said.

What's your reaction?