Xcel to seek extension of Monticello operation

21 May 2019

Utility Xcel Energy has announced plans for its last two remaining coal-fired power plants in Upper Midwest region of the USA to retire 10 years earlier than previously planned while operation of its Monticello nuclear power plant will be extended by at least a decade.

The single-unit Monticello plant in Minnesota (Image: Xcel Energy)

The company operates in eight Western and Midwestern US states and supplies electricity to 3.6 million customers. It announced in December its plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to its customers by 2050.

Under plans announced yesterday, Xcel's Allen S King coal plant will close in 2028, with the Sherco 3 plant closing in 2030. The company plans to add an additional 1850 MWe of wind capacity by 2022, by which time more than 30% of customers' energy in the Upper Midwest will come from wind. Xcel also anticipates adding more than 3000 MWe of additional solar capacity by 2030. By 2030, more than 50% of its customers' energy in the region is expected to come from renewables.

The plans are part of the proposed Upper Midwest Energy Plan, which Xcel will submit for approval to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on 1 July.

"The acceleration of the coal closures is another milestone in the company's clean energy transition that includes expanding wind and solar, using cleaner natural gas and operating its carbon-free Monticello nuclear plant until at least 2040," Xcel Energy said. "The plan outlines a path to make the transition while ensuring reliability and keeping costs low for customers. As part of this plan, the company has reached an agreement with a coalition of environmental and labour organisations on key elements of the plan relating to its coal, solar and natural gas plans."

Its two nuclear power plants in Minnesota - Monticello and Prairie Island - account for 13% of Xcel's total electricity generation. Monticello's single 671 MWe boiling water reactor is currently licensed to operate until 2030, while Prairie Island's two 550 MWe pressurised water reactors are licenced to operate until 2033 and 2034, respectively.

In March, the company said operating its nuclear plants for the remainder of their licences will be a "key element" in meeting its 2030 target, adding that policies at the state and federal levels are needed that "allow us to continue the cost-effective operation of these important assets at least through the end of their current operating licences". Xcel also said it sees advanced reactors or small modular reactors playing a role in meeting its ultimate goal of providing zero-carbon electricity by 2050.

Xcel said yesterday it will "work closely with the Monticello community as it seeks to continue the use of the Monticello nuclear plant until at least 2040". It noted that continued operation of the plant requires approvals at both state and federal levels.

The company believes it can reach its carbon-reduction goals outlined in the plan while keeping customer bills at or below the rate of inflation. "Retiring coal, adding renewables and extending the use of nuclear energy is the fastest way to deliver carbon reductions at the lowest cost," it said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News