Critics speak against coal at Xcel hearing, say the company’s resource plan isn’t focused enough on renewable energy

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University of Minnesota students spoke out against Xcel Energy’s proposed integrated resource plan at a hearing Thursday by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Proposed in 2010, the plan covers the company’s strategy for servicing energy to its customers from 2011 to 2025. Though it includes some renewable energy goals, those opposed say it is not enough and criticize the company for its continued utilization of fossil fuel.

The commission heard statements from 16 public speakers about Xcel’s goals for Sherburne County Generating Station, which is known as Sherco, Minnesota’s largest coal-fired power plant. Two of the plant’s three generators will reach their economic capacity by 2023. The commission will vote whether to approve the plan Thursday.

Among the speakers were representatives from environmental groups — including the University of Minnesota student group Campus Beyond Coal — that addressed the plant’s environmental impact.

University senior Phillip Kelly, former co-chair of Campus Beyond Coal, spoke as a representative of the student group and of the University student body.

“We are trying to change our consumer community on campus,” Kelly said, “and in order for the University’s carbon footprint to be reduced, it’s up to Xcel’s carbon footprint to be reduced.”

The Xcel plan includes a five-action plan with goals like developing 250 megawatts of wind power by the end of 2012 and creating a plan to update or replace Sherco 1 and 2 because of changing environmental regulations.

Kelly said the group wants Xcel to retire the Sherco plant and create 5,000 megawatts of wind energy and 1,000 megawatts of solar energy. It’s also pushing for the company to reach a 2 percent energy savings goal instead of the 1.5 percent proposed in the plan.

Kelly said since the University is one of Xcel’s biggest clients in Minnesota, it’s important for students to be aware of decisions like this.

“We have a stake in our energy, and we want Xcel’s integrated resource plan to really recognize what our stake is,” he said.

In the past, Campus Beyond Coal has organized grassroots campaigns to increase the energy efficiency standards at locations like the Southeast Steam Plant in Minneapolis.

Siri Simons, a University graduate and former president of the student group, spoke to students and professionals rallying for renewable energy before the hearing.

She talked about the group’s success with getting the Southeast Steam Plant to reduce its coal use. Simons said this experience showed her how students can influence the resources around them.

“We really can have a voice in our energy use at the University,” she said, “and we should have a voice because we sit in these classrooms and we eat in the residence halls and we use this energy.”

Will Steger, known for his polar expeditions and environmental advocacy, told the commission that implementing more renewable energy into the resource plan would create jobs and provide security for other generations.

“We are denying our children a future by denying the obvious climate destruction that we’re witnessing around the world,” Steger said.

James Alders, director of regulatory administration for Xcel, spoke on behalf of the company at the hearing.

Alders said the company is considering ways to address the issues raised by the speakers.

“The company agrees that some study work should be done to sort out the future of Sherco 1 and 2 and what the alternatives are to Sherco 1 and 2 continuing to operate,” he said.

He said Xcel has customer representatives working with the University “on a day-to-day basis.”

“They are a large customer, the campus is, and so we try to work closely with them to make sure they’re getting their energy requirements,” he said.

Kelly said regardless of the commission’s decision on the resource plan, Campus Beyond Coal is looking forward to 2014 when the city of Minneapolis’ utility franchise agreement with Xcel will expire and the city will negotiate for a new agreement.

He said the group will push Xcel to “have an energy portfolio with more renewable energy.”

“Just as we want to look at the implications on a larger time scale, we also want to be looking at the opportunities on a large time scale.”

In the meantime, Kelly said University students will continue to be active about state energy planning.

“We’re not just going to sit in classrooms and hear about the different effects that climate change has produced and then just sit back and … do nothing about it,” he said.