This chart compares projected carbon reductions under Xcel's earlier resource plan (yellow) and under a revised proposal issued today. Credit: Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy announced today that it will close two units of the state’s largest coal plant by 2026, while committing to developing 1,200 megawatts of new renewable energy by 2020.

The decision follows an analysis earlier this year by clean energy advocates showing the two units at the Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco) could be shut down over the next 15 years with little impact on reliability, while preventing millions of tons of carbon emissions and reducing environmental and health costs by $1.2 billion.

Xcel says the plan will cut carbon emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, helping the state meet limits under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

The move is outlined in comments filed today to state regulators, which Xcel president Christopher Clark called “A bold energy vision that benefits our customers, communities, and the states we serve.”

Yesterday, the Sierra Club submitted more than 11,000 comments in favor of closing the plant.

“Minnesotans and Governor (Mark) Dayton have spoken loud and clear that it is time for a responsible transition beyond coal to clean energy,” said Sierra Club organizer Alexis Boxer in a news release.

The shutdown is not without controversy. Last month, a media event organized by two Republican state lawmakers highlighted the economic impact of the plant, which one of the lawmakers — Rep. Pat Garofalo — dubbed “ground zero“ in a broader fight over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

In its comments, Xcel says it plans an “eight to ten year transition period” for workers at Sherco and will study natural gas and solar generation at the site, “which will preserve jobs, grow tax base, and reaffirm our commitment to central Minnesota.”

Xcel also proposes extending licenses for its nuclear plants. “Continuing to operate our nuclear fleet is also essential to achieving the emissions reductions contemplated by state and federal policies. Our nuclear units comprise more than half of the company’s carbon-free generation.”

The comments also reflect a change in the utility’s position on efficiency. Previously, Xcel had said it could not continue to cut energy use by 1.5 percent per year. The utility now says “technology advancements may alter the future” along with further modernization of the grid will “unlock greater potential savings.”

Xcel says the transformation will come “at a reasonable cost for our customers,” but will file a more detailed analysis no later than January 29.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.