Some utilities are fighting mandates for renewable
energy. Xcel Energy Inc. has embraced the trend
and would like to see some national standards on
renewables for utilities.
Xcel Energy leads all investor-owned utilities
in the amount of wind power on its system. In Colorado,
Xcel Energy gets more than 10 percent of its power
from wind and aims to get 20 percent from all renewable
energy sources by a state deadline of 2020.
"Our intent is to push it to the max," said Dick
Kelly, Xcel Energy chief executive and president.
"Whether that's 20, 25 percent, 30 percent."
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which serves eight
states in the West and Midwest including North Dakota,
also has a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions
by 10 percent by 2017.
Kelly said he generally favors a national renewable
"It'd be nice to have a policy at the federal level,
a national policy, so we all know what the rules
are and we all know how to play by them," Kelly
said in an interview with The Associated Press at
Xcel Energy's downtown Denver offices.
Some utilities felt differently when the U.S. Senate
debated a measure in the energy bill that would
have required investor-owned utilities to generate
15 percent of their electricity from solar, wind
and other renewable sources.
Atlanta-based Southern Co. and other utilities
contended it would be tough to meet the mandate
in the Southeast, where there isn't an abundance
of wind and sun.
Kelly said he can sympathize with that because
natural resources vary across the country.
Even in Colorado, one of the windiest and sunniest
states, Kelly worries about having enough power
when people need it. The company also is sensitive
about costs to businesses and households.
"I'm assuming the people of Colorado wouldn't
be very receptive to the power going out in July
when it's 100 degrees and we say, `Well, the wind's
not blowing, so you can't run your air conditioner,'"
Xcel Energy is working with the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory in Golden on ways to store wind-powered
energy for later use. The challenge, Kelly said,
is to have a balanced portfolio of energy sources,
which eventually could include nuclear power and
coal plants that burn cleaner and pollute less.
"I think nuclear needs to be part of the solution
because it's carbon-free," said Kelly, adding the
nation's radioactive waste storage problem needs
to be solved.
The Colorado native supports mandatory standards
for cutting greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Kelly said there is enough concern about carbon
dioxide and customer demand for cleaner energy to
"The time for debating it is over. We ought to
actually start doing something about it," he said.
Kelly favors tax credits to encourage cutting greenhouse-gas
emissions rather than "cap-and-trade" schemes that
set pollution caps and allow companies to sell and
buy credits. He said he thinks credits and incentives
encourage more use of advanced technology, including
coal plants that capture carbon emissions, while
a cap-and-trade program might simply result in companies
switching to natural gas, driving up the cost of
Kelly also wants Congress to extend renewable energy
tax credits and incentives set to expire at year's
end. So far, proposals to extend them have failed.
All this might seem a big stretch for the company
that teamed up with other utilities in 2004 to fight
Amendment 37, a ballot measure that made Colorado
voters the first in the country to set a renewable
energy standard. Other states have set standards
through regulations or legislatures.
Kelly said Xcel Energy opposed the measure because
it was concerned it would drive up rates. The company
also worried about a requirement that 4 percent
of renewable energy required by 2015 come from solar
Investment in solar and a program encouraging
homeowners to install solar panels have eased those
concerns. Wind power also has become more economically
"I think the fact that we met the (10 percent)
requirement eight years early should prove to people
that we were never opposed to Amendment 37 and the
renewable part of it," Kelly said. "I've been in
favor of renewables for a long time. We've pushed
the company as fast as we can."
With the addition of nearly 800 megawatts of renewable
energy last year and more planned this year, the
company is confident it will meet the 20 percent
by 2020 requirement. It is buying power from a new
8-megawatt solar plant in south-central Colorado
and is part of consortiums looking at other solar
The American Wind Energy Association, a Washington,
D.C.-based trade group, ranked Xcel Energy as the
nation's leading utility in wind power in 2006 and
2007. It had 1,323 megawatts of wind power on its
system in April, compared with 1,026 megawatts for
No. 2 Southern California Edison.
"It's clear that Xcel is a leader, but more significantly
is that the company's entire strategic posture has
changed toward wind and other renewables under the
leadership of Dick Kelly," said Randall Swisher,
the association's executive director.
Swisher said his group is preparing a study to
show lawmakers and other businesses the strides
Xcel Energy has made.
Kelly, formerly the utility's president and chief
operating officer, took over as CEO in 2005. He
also worked for New Century Energies and Public
Service Co. of Colorado, two of Xcel Energy's predecessor
Xcel Energy has earned kudos from some of the
same Colorado environmental groups it battled on
the 2004 ballot measure. Some critics, though, have
denounced the company's construction of a new coal-fired
power plant in Pueblo. Some environmental groups
dropped their objections in 2004 to the plant after
Xcel Energy agreed to advanced pollution controls.
Others would like to see Xcel Energy be more bullish
on renewable energy.
"Their resource plans represent a great start
and shows that Colorado can be a real leader," said
Craig Cox, executive director of the Colorado-based
Interwest Energy Alliance, a coalition of renewable
energy trade and advocacy groups. "We hope to bolster
their leadership as the technologies continue to
become more widespread."
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