How Xcel could bring carbon-free power to Minnesota

Xcel Energy's Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.
Xcel Energy's Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News file

In the not-too-distant past, Xcel Energy's pledge to go carbon-free by 2050 would've sounded outlandish.

"If we looked maybe 10 years ago, it would've seemed impossible that a utility would voluntarily talk about a carbon-free goal in some of ours' lifetime," said Gabe Chan, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota.

Yet the electrical utility has made the pledge, and it may succeed.

Chan, who studies energy technology and climate change at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said Xcel isn't exactly sure how to go carbon-free in 32 years. It'll take a "complex mix" of energy technology, he said, and it likely won't be entirely renewable energy.

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Xcel has said nuclear power will play a big role in reaching all carbon-free. Chan said the utility will likely rely on unproven technologies like carbon capture and sequestration to achieve its goal.

Still, carbon-free by 2050 is possible.

For example, Chan noted that solar power costs about a third of what it did in 2000.

"That rapid pace of change, no one predicted at the time," he said. "And so it's really dangerous to be in the business of trying to predict more than 20, 30 years out from now."

Regardless of how Xcel would reach its goal, its stock price has gone up in recent weeks, Chan said. He thinks other utilities may follow Xcel's lead on cleaner electricity.

"It just makes business sense and [Xcel's] investors expected this," Chan said. "It's in everyone's interest at this point to start thinking about new forms of energy and lowering carbon emissions."

Hear Chan and MPR News chief meteorologist Paul Huttner's full interview on the player above. They also discussed Metro Transit's green bus goal and why there is public support for the Green New Deal.