By Marie Venner

Xcel is breaking the law and lying to the people of Colorado. The Clean Energy Plan (CEP) that Xcel submitted on March 31, 2021, failed to follow Colorado law and should be rejected by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Although the plan claims that it includes the cost of carbon dioxide, this claim is highly misleading. 

Colorado statute §40-3.2-106 requires evaluation of existing electric generation resources using the cost of carbon dioxide. Applying this cost of carbon dioxide results in coal-fired electricity being the most expensive electricity in the Colorado system. Xcel should have submitted a portfolio in the Clean Energy Plan that stopped burning coal and built solar, wind, and storage, and if or where absolutely necessary, natural gas capacity, even if used over a shorter lifetime.

The plan that Xcel submitted claims to develop portfolios that include the cost of carbon dioxide. However, Xcel forced their models to include coal-fired electricity by using various technical constraints that effectively only applied the cost of carbon dioxide to non-coal electricity.

Thousands of pages of comments over nine months have been submitted to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), but comments have been anchored to the relatively narrow range of policy options developed by Xcel, centered around keeping coal in high use (an 80% capacity factor used for all the scenarios Xcel submitted in March last year). Although several commenters developed and presented alternative resource portfolios that are improvements over PSCO’s portfolios, they all keep coal-fired electricity generation running this decade, in the interest of presenting an “apples-to-apples”comparison with Xcel’s.

The PUC is now ruling on this expensive plan for our electrical system, despite being denied the necessary range of options required by Colorado law. This fiasco clearly illustrates the need for a different approach to decarbonizing Colorado’s electrical system, which has been shown to be key to achieving Colorado’s greenhouse gas reductions. The private and adversarial legal process used by the PUC is a poor match for developing the decarbonized electrical grid.  The Office of Utility Consumer Advocate could be much better and offer some hope of a public interest planning process, rather than one dominated by Xcel and maximizing the amount of money it can extract from Colorado, the state already producing an outsized share of its profits.

Here’s what Xcel should be doing to better serve the people of Colorado: 

  • As a first step, Xcel should be required to use a more open and transparent planning process.
  • Xcel should be required to use open data and an open energy model for their resource planning, and not be allowed to hide their planning process behind a veil of “highly confidential information.”
  • Public interest electricity and energy planning is imperative, given the point we are at in the energy transition, the climate risk to our state, and the billions of dollars Colorado ratepayers will soon be on the hook to deliver to Xcel. We must have scenarios designed to maximize the public good rather than designed to maximize returns to Xcel and Wall Street. 
  • The plan must help deliver Colorado’s goal of 26% greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. Unfortunately, as the largest lobbyist in the state, Xcel has its own provision on p. 8 of HB19-1261 easing such demands. 
  • Xcel must comply with the legislature’s mandate that it applies the social cost of carbon and cost minimization for the public (the present value revenue requirement or PVRR) in one scenario.

Xcel is supposed to be a Public Service Company of Colorado, after all, not a vehicle for maximal money extraction to Wall Street and Xcel shareholders.  Xcel is losing its social license to operate and should receive a strong warning.  The state should be prepared to pick it up and operate PSCo with the same staff, perhaps worker-owned, and allowing communities like Pueblo and Craig to have the income stream from investment in renewables, using the transmission lines already in place.

With $9.9 billion in spending on the line in the next 4-5 years for further investment in its mostly fossil system under the current approach, Colorado urgently needs to move to a democratic electric resource planning process that allows and encourages substantive design contributions from citizens. Such a planning process will be a better match for the future decarbonized electricity grid, which will require citizens to manage their own demand and contribute to an emergent resilient grid.

Here’s how you can take action:

  1. Join the Xcelerate Climate Action Coalition and stay up to date on opportunities to Xcelerate Climate Action in Colorado and keep the pressure on Xcel Energy.

*Want to learn more? Here are two different factsheets with more info: Xcel’s coal pollution and  Xcel’s gas pollution