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Wind power cut Xcel Energy’s carbon emissions last year. But is the utility moving fast enough to meet goals?

Colorado’s largest electricity provider expects to have 4,400 MW of wind power by the end of the year. Details are expected in Xcel’s resource plan Wednesday.

Some of the wind turbines that make up NextEra Energy's massive Limon wind farm turn north of Interstate 70 near Genoa. The power generated is sold to Xcel Energy under long-term contracts. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)
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Xcel Energy cut its carbon emissions by 5% in 2020 compared with 2019, in large part due to the addition of new wind generation, according to the company, Colorado’s largest electricity provider.

Carbon emissions declined a record 12% in Xcel’s companywide service area, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and New Mexico.

Xcel’s carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal and natural gas to generate electricity. Coal is the main source of carbon emissions.

The company attributed the reduction to the addition of renewable generation across its system, including 800 megawatts of wind projects in late 2019 and 2,200 MW in 2020.

Among those projects is the 500 MW Cheyenne Ridge Wind Farm, a 229-turbine facility, straddling Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties, which was completed in September.

“Since 2018, we’ve added more than 1,500 megawatts of wind capacity in Colorado, with wind producing 31% of our energy in 2020. That’s up from 24% wind energy in our Colorado energy mix in 2018,” Michelle Aguayo, an Xcel spokeswoman, said in an email.

Xcel expects to have 4,100 MW of wind generating capacity in Colorado by the end of this year. Overall, Xcel said it now has 10,000 MW of wind generating capacity online in its service territories.

In September the company set a record for hourly generation with wind supplying 70% of the system’s electricity.

Since 2005, Xcel said it has cut its companywide carbon emissions by 51%. Colorado emissions are down 46%, which is the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road, Aguayo said.

Still, the Sierra Club in a recent report gave Xcel a C grade for clean energy and carbon reductions. “This is because Xcel still has two coal plants operating past 2030 and not enough renewable energy capacity planned to replace its fossil fuel generation by 2030,” said Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Xcel is set to have significant carbon emissions reductions in Colorado in the next few years as it closes four coal-fired units before 2030.

Unit 1 at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo is slated to close in 2022 and Unit 2 will close in 2025. Two units at the Hayden plant in northwest Colorado are set to close in 2027 and 2028.

Closing the four units will shutter more than 1,200 MW of coal-fired capacity.

That will leave Xcel with two coal-fired power plants in Colorado: the 750 MW Comanche 3 unit and the 505 MW Pawnee plant near Brush.

Xcel is unveiling its Electric Resource Plan Wednesday. The plan, which projects demand and how the utility plans to meet it, will be filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March. New clean energy initiatives are expected to be part of the plan.

Xcel Energy’s Comanche Generating Station, shown here in a March 5, 2020, photo, is the largest power plant in Colorado. The steam-driven, coal-fueled plant, located in Pueblo, generates 1,410 megawatts of power. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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