With more solar on the way, does Xcel need more gas peakers?
06/06/2013 by Dan Haugen
As the population grows, the economy improves and the climate warms in its service territory, Xcel Energy projects rising demand for electricity on hot summer days before the end of the decade.
On April 15, the Minnesota utility proposed meeting that new peak demand by building three 215-megawatt natural gas power plants — one in the Twin Cities and another two in North Dakota.
Six weeks later, though, Xcel and other investor-owned utilities in Minnesota were presented with a new legislative mandate to generate 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020.
The state’s new solar standard is expected to spur development of an estimated 450 megawatts of solar power over the next six and a half years, which raises the question: does Xcel still need all three of those gas peaking plants?
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has already agreed to the need for more generation, will meet today to consider whether some of that need could be met with solar power instead of fossil fuels.
The commission is charged with choosing the best plan for ratepayers from five possible proposals, including Xcel Energy’s natural gas plants and a renewable developer’s plan to install more than 30 solar arrays strategically spread across Xcel’s territory.
The renewable company, Geronimo Energy, says its 100-megawatt distributed solar project could economically supply about a seventh of the additional generation capacity Xcel Energy expects to require by 2019.
Other options include proposals by Invenergy and Calpine Corp. to expand existing natural gas plants in Cannon Falls and Mankato, respectively, and a bid by Great River Energy to sell its surplus electricity to Xcel customers.
A coalition of environmental and policy groups, including Fresh Energy, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League and the Minnesota Center for