The long road to carbon-free energy

Xcel Energy is creating more programs to reduce carbon emissions, but that doesn’t mean it’s dropping fossil fuels completely

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Basalt, Colorado: Electric vehicle charging station at parking lot space near farmers market
Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

Earlier this year, Xcel Energy made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 85% by 2030. With that goal in mind it’s launched the Charging Perks pilot program for new electric vehicle (EV) smart charging on the Xcel power grids. According to Xcel Energy officials, their EV vision aligns with Colorado’s goal to have 940,000 electric vehicles on the roads by 2030.

“As we continue to cut carbon emissions on our system, electric vehicles will run on ever-cleaner energy. This provides cleaner air for everyone—whether or not you drive an EV,” Michelle Aguayo, a representative for Xcel, says. 

On September 9, Xcel Energy announced four new residential EV programs in Colorado. The options include benefits like faster chargers, rewards when drivers don’t charge their vehicles during peak hours, and rebates up to $5,500 on new EV purchases. Xcel Energy plans to use data from the Charging Perks pilot to evaluate and improve program design as well as learn more about smart charging technologies as a whole. 

The pilot program will include up to 600 EV customers from automakers BMW, Ford, Tesla, and Honda.

“As thousands of new electric vehicle customers in Colorado—and across the country—start plugging in to the grid, smartly managing charging is going to be critical to ensure a smooth transition to an EV lifestyle,” says Matt Stover, director of charging/energy services at Ford Motor Company. 

Over a three-year period, the programs Xcel Energy is offering will provide about 20,000 charging plugs in homes, businesses, workplaces, community charging hubs and other public places in Colorado. For the Charging Perks pilot, Xcel Energy will be working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to analyze, learn, and evaluate the test program before making a full program available to all drivers.

“Achieving our EV vision to have 1.5 million vehicles on the road in the eight states we serve by 2030 will require unique partnerships and programs,” writes Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado. “We’re excited because this pilot enables new paths to help manage the grid as we move to increase renewable generation on our system.”

Xcel Energy has a vision that by 2030, 20% of all the vehicles in the areas they serve will be EVs. The company wants to support communities as members transition to this option, and the automakers are completely on board.

“BMW is excited to partner with Xcel Energy in creating a ‘win-win’ for the electricity grid and electric vehicles that accelerates a clean energy future for both industries,” writes Adam Langton the energy services manager for BMW of North America, LLC. 

The company is trying to help reduce barriers individuals may have that may keep them from transitioning to EV by offering services like this Charging Perks pilot program, reducing upfront costs to home charging, and more planned programs on the way to ease challenges for people living in multifamily buildings like condos and apartments, as well as lowering costs for charging equipment in affordable housing. The company says that when you switch to electric the cost is equivalent to one dollar per gallon of gas, and has the possibility of being less when vehicles are charged during off-peak times.

Xcel Energy doesn’t stop at the individual level either, it has plans for businesses and cities that operate with fleets of vehicles, including Denver’s RTD. These benefits include helping build charging infrastructure in places like fleet garages, but also out in communities with mobility hubs as well as locations along highway corridors. Xcel Energy’s EV plans are even getting national attention.

“Electrification of the transportation sector is a critical priority in Colorado and other states that Xcel Energy serves,” writes Martin Keller, laboratory director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is pleased to support and be a part of Xcel Energy’s exciting new EV vision.”

The Charging Perks pilot program is just one initiative Xcel Energy is working on; several involve EV, but it isn’t the only thing on the horizon. Xcel Energy officials say the company wants to build customer-focused energy-efficiency programs, work on stabilizing grid systems while using renewable resources (even during times of extreme weather, hot or cold), and to ensure it has the staffing to provide these services.

“This is one of the first smart charging projects between an energy company and multiple automakers and I believe represents a major opportunity to help our customers do even more to reduce their carbon footprint,” Jackson writes.

Last year, 47 percent of the energy Excel generated came from carbon-free sources, but a large portion is still derived from coal (21 percent) and natural gas (32 percent). In Colorado specifically, only 37 percent of energy came from carbon-free sources. Still, coal (26 percent) and natural gas (37 percent) tilt the scale away from Xcel Energy’s goals. 

While the company has the goal of offering 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050, it doesn’t mean Xcel Energy is taking a complete shift away from fossil fuels—the company plans to still utilize Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Xcel Energy is still in charge of inspecting, repairing, and replacing parts of more than 24,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in Colorado, and while most coal energy stations have proposed shutdown dates, one coal-burning plant in Colorado is proposed to convert to burning natural gas by 2028. Xcel Energy also submitted a proposal to state regulators to extend the Pipeline System Integrity Adjustment (PSIA) from January 1, 2022, to the end of December 2024. This request is to secure additional funding for working on pipeline safety and integrity. According to the application, the PSIA revenue requirements during the requested extension period are $122.3 million for 2022; $137.2 million for 2023, and $151.5 million for 2024

There is still a long way to go before Xcel Energy can reach its 2050 goal of offering 100 percent carbon-free energy. In the next nine years, the company is looking to add new