Xcel Energy is Colorado’s largest utility company and serves seven other states as well. The company’s commitment to a carbon-neutral future is a light in the darkness, coming out of the American government’s seeming indifference to the profit potential of renewable energy. Americans in the eight states served by Xcel can breathe a little easier, at least knowing that their utility company is right-minded.
In this edition of Renewable Energy News, read about how the major US utility Xcel Energy plans to go 100 per cent green by the year 2050.
Renewable Energy News: Major US Utility Xcel Energy Goes 100% Green
Xcel Energy calls Minneapolis, Minnesota home. The utility holdings company has over 3 million electric and nearly 2 million gas customers in the eight states that it serves. Xcel Energy operates subsidiary utility companies in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
The announcement by Xcel Energy to deliver 100 per cent clean energy is the first declaration of its kind in the country. No other US utility has made as lofty a goal, but many have gotten onboard the renewable-energy train.
The Indiana utility NIPSCO is closing down coal plants faster than expected to set up renewable energy plants. Another Midwest frontrunner, Midwest Utility MidAmerican, says that by 2020 it will deliver 100 per cent renewables energy.
Utility companies across the Midwest are making the transition to renewable energy, for several reasons. To begin with, the midwest of the United States has less coal and gas resources than the coasts and the southern United States. But, the biggest reason is financial.
What’s the Difference Between ‘Green’ and ‘Renewable’ Energy?
Energy is a big umbrella. Underneath the central ‘Energy’ umbrella, sits conventional energy and renewable energy. Green energy is a subset of renewables and sits under the renewable energy umbrella.
Green power is the best kind of energy production for the environment. It is best for reducing carbon emissions and carries a zero-carbon footprint. According to the EPA, green energy is harnessed from geothermal, solar, wind, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydroelectric sources.
Renewable power is that which comes from the energy that naturally restores itself over some time. These include the wind, water, sun, and heat from the core of the earth.
Some renewable energy sources can carry an environmental impact that makes them less than 100 per cent green. For example, large hydroelectric dams and tidal energy machines affect the oceans plant and animal life. Dams change the migratory patterns of marine life and clear out the surrounding wildlife that relies on the waterways for sustenance.
The difference between renewable and green energy is small. It distinguishes renewables that are zero-impact from renewables that have a slight or moderate impact.
Proponents of nuclear energy make an argument for the clean and renewable nature of nuclear fission plants. Nuclear plants, however, are not carbon neutral. You must mine the earth to build the plant, store radioactive material for an extended period, and run the risk of a nuclear meltdown.
You can make an argument for nuclear as a renewable but not a green energy source. Green energy includes anything that has a zero-impact on the environment.
How is Power Generated Currently?
Power is electricity. The power grid of the United States provides accessible power to homes and buildings, produced by electricity generators. For a generator to create electricity, the generator must spin a turbine which produces an electrical current.
The electricity produced by the generators spinning of a turbine can be expended immediately, or, stored in a battery for later use. The standard method of making the generator turbine spin is steam heat.
Heat is the crux that brings you back to fuel. Utilities burn fossil fuel to heat water, which creates steam and rises to spin the generator’s turbine producing electricity.
None of this, however, has changed Washington’s stance on the global climate change outlook. The White House seems happy to increase coal production tenfold.
The simple process of spinning the turbine with steam is a necessity that brought the world to its current dependency on fossil fuels.
So, when thinking of how best to solve an energy crisis, we must look for methods of spinning the turbine that is just as effective yet environmentally, socially, and economically responsible.
So far, making the generators turbine spin has put the world in a bottomless pit of problems. But Xcel Energy’s announcement on Tuesday stands as proof that the resources and technology to create zero-emission power is not only available but cheaper than ever.
Why are Utilities Going Green?
Coal is expensive to mine, both in time and human labour. Despite the Trump administration’s stance on bringing back coal, most American utility companies are looking for a cleaner, cheaper source of power to spin the generator turbine.
In the United States, 2019 will see the lowest coal production for nearly 40 years.
Utilities are shifting away from coal, oil, and natural gas in favour of renewables.
A report from the Lizard Investment Bank shows that the cost of utility energy production is cheaper with renewables than coal. Even if the United States government shuns that facts, at least the utility owners can read the writing on the wall.
The cost to produce energy from renewables is steadily decreasing year over year. That has led many US states to deregulate electricity programs to offer more renewable incentives.
For a utility company, green power is a triple-win. A customer that gets green energy is paying a little more to make up for the infrastructural costs, but they are happy to do so to do their part for the environment. It also means that they are less likely to leave for a cheaper service since the customer has invested in their green energy.
What’s in it for Xcel Energy?
Xcel Energy is one of the largest utilities in the United States. The company operates in New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Michigan-all four of which just put a Democrat in as Governor.
Xcel already has been leading the industry on cutting emissions, and it sees an opportunity to get a stronghold while the getting’s good.
Customers in Colorado are demanding renewable energy, and customers everywhere are demanding lower rates. Public opinion, mixed with cost savings allows Xcel to expand into new area’s and buy up little utilities.
Renewables are accessible for the Western United States where oil, coal, and water are all in short supply. Politicians in these states find a stronghold base of support, contingent on the help of the state for green energy. This trend is working its way East, into Colorado, Michigan, and more.
Xcel receives cheaper renewable bids than coal, and renewables are rivalling the price of natural gas. So much so, that when Colorado cities, like Denver and Breckenridge cried-out for renewables, Xcel energy made a change.
The Power of the People
Sure-if you demand an unattainable thing, you won’t get it. But, when a lot of customers unilaterally tell a company what they want, the company is inclined to listen and change.
It is true: Seaworld no longer takes in killer whales. Circuses all over the United States are no longer using elephants in shows, and Armani doesn’t use real animal fur in their kids’ clothing anymore.
And, when customers say to their utilities, we want renewables, the company listens. How you spend your dollar, where, and for what is the most democratically important right you have.
America might not have a federal policy regarding global climate change and cutting carbon emissions, but Americans do. Xcel Energy sees a leadership opportunity where federal leadership is coming up short.
It is to the advantage of the American electorate to support utilities, like Excel Energy, that commit to a zero-carbon footprint. Companies that move forward the public realisation of the immediacy of climate change and the long-term process to rectify such are true American patriots.
Not to mention, the more support Xcel Energy has amongst the electorate, the more political leverage they possess in Washington. So, it makes sense that Xcel will use the increase in revenue and decreased production costs to expand the companies reach.
Utility companies make their money from a rate-of-return on energy infrastructure investments. The mining of coal and natural gas offers little, to no return on their investment. Green energy, on the other hand, provides infrastructural investment return on everything.
Xcel Energy is the first to make such an overarching commitment to the wellbeing of the world, but it certainly will not be the last.
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