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Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, committed to going 100 percent carbon-free by 2050

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily News
Carbon dioxide bellows from a coal-fired power plant near Boulder, CO.

As the world turns its back on promises to curb carbon emissions, one of America’s largest utility companies has stepped up and promised to eventually eliminate its own. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, announced Tuesday that it intends to go 100 percent carbon-free in all eight states it serves by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent of its 2005 emission levels by 2030. Xcel is the first major U.S. utility to make such a commitment.

The announcement was made at the same time a new report revealed that global carbon emissions increased in 2017 by 1.6 percent after staying relatively flat for the three years prior. Emissions are expected to have increased by 2.7 percent in 2018, dashing hopes that the world had finally turned a corner on carbon dioxide production.

The utility explicitly did not commit to 100 percent renewable energy, as Summit County and the town of Breckenridge have. Mark Stutz, spokesman for Xcel Energy Colorado, said that Xcel’s goal aligns with those set by communities like Summit, but does not want to limit itself to renewables. Instead, Xcel intends to explore future technology like advanced nuclear power plants and fossil fuel power with carbon sequestration, which could offer the benefits of fossil fuel-based energy without the emissions.

“We think it matches up very well with Summit’s goals,” Stutz said. “Clearly, both sides have the same goal: improving air quality and getting to zero carbon emissions. Our approach differs slightly in that we are not limiting ourselves to current technologies. There might be some technology we’re not aware of today, something that comes out in 10 to 20 years that accomplishes the same goal without relying entirely on renewables.”

Stutz pointed out reliable wind and solar energy was considered far-fetched a few decades ago, but is now cheaper to produce than many fossil fuel counterparts. He also said that improved battery technology in the future might allow for long-term energy storage on a mass scale from renewable and emerging energy sources, eliminating the need for constant real-time generation that drives the need for fossil fuel energy today.

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Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs applauded Xcel’s announcement.

“We believe climate change is one of the greatest threats to our economy and to our way of life here in Summit,” Gibbs said. “This is such a positive step in the right direction, for one of the nation’s major utility companies to move to 100 percent clean energy.”

Gov.-elect Jared Polis singled out Summit County as one of the communities spearheading initiatives toward 100 percent carbon-free or renewable energy.

“When I launched my campaign back in 2017 we had a bold agenda for our state to get to 100 percent renewable by 2040,” Polis said in a press release. “Xcel Energy’s exciting announcement, along with the strong climate goals in communities like Pueblo, Summit County, Fort Collins, Denver and others across the state have embraced, shows we are leading the way forward right here in Colorado — by committing to a renewable and clean energy future.”

Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke also credited towns like Breckenridge for taking the initiative for climate goals, encouraging Xcel to roll out its own ambitious goal. He acknowledged that the target date is a ways away, but lofty goals like these require a lot of time to set a foundation before they become a reality.

“Our goals are ambitious and achieving them requires a long runway,” Fowke said in a press release. “We’re starting the conversation today to make sure we can achieve this groundbreaking transition while continuing to keep energy affordable and reliable for customers.”

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