Greenspace: What’s your utility company doing to reduce carbon?

December 17, 2018

Last week, Xcel Energy announced that it’s going carbon-free by 2050.

The Minneapolis-based utilities company will be 80 percent carbon-free by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050, according to its statement. That is the highest pledge so far in Rochester’s coverage area.

Xcel is the first major U.S. utility company to make such a pledge.

“Today’s announcement by Xcel Energy that it is committed to achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity across its service territory by 2050 is a huge win for consumers, the solar industry, and the environment,” said David Amster-Olszewski, the founder and CEO of SunShare, a corporation that works under Xcel’s community solar program.

“We congratulate and commend our partners at Xcel for their bold vision. … We expect this announcement will mean an even stronger focus on implementing community solar programs that can bring clean renewable energy to residential and commercial customers across Xcel’s service area that may not be able to install solar panels on their rooftops.”

If you’re not an Xcel customer, you may be wondering how your own utility company is doing, as far as CO2 reduction goes.

Austin Utilities and Rochester Public Utilities follow the guidelines set out by the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA).

Austin Utilities met SMMPA’s goal of 15 percent carbon-free electricity by 2015, and is on track to be 30 percent carbon-free by 2025, the next stated goal, Austin general manager Mark Nibaur said.

SMMPA hasn’t set goals after that yet, Nibaur said.

RPU now receives 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, said utility spokesman Tony Benson.

RPU also owns and operates hydroelectric generation at the Lake Zumbro dam, Benson added, which provides RPU with carbon-free energy that exceeds the SMMPA contract.

“Environmental responsibility is one of RPU’s core values,” Benson said. “Our periodic Resource Plan updates are already looking beyond 2030, when our long-term power supply contract with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency is set to expire. At the direction of RPU’s Board, the 2019 Resource Plan update will evaluate several scenarios, including 100 percent renewable generation. With updated information, RPU’s Board will be able to make strategic decisions to ensure that RPU continues to set the standard for service to our customers.”

People’s Energy Cooperative works a little differently, said Gwen Stevens, director of cooperative relations. Because PEC is an electric distribution cooperative, it doesn’t generate its own electricity, outside of a couple of solar arrays (one in Elgin and one north of the cooperative’s office in Oronoco, along U.S. Highway 52).

The rest of the cooperative’s energy comes from Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse, Wis., and Interstate Power and Light, of Spring Valley.

Dairyland doesn’t currently have plans to be carbon-free, Stevens said, but is working to include more renewable energy sources, and has plans to up its wind and solar from 19 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2027.

Dairyland’s natural gas consumption is also slated to increase (from 5 percent to 20 percent), while coal consumption goes down from 64 percent to 50 percent.

PEC also purchases electricity from Interstate, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy. Alliant hopes to eliminate all coal from its energy mix by 2050, and to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 as well.

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