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Natural Gas Is Key To Colorado Utility’s Plan To Reduce Emissions and Provide Reliable Power

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Xcel Energy, a major power utility serving Colorado customers, released its Clean Energy Plan this week that underscores the key role that natural gas will play in reducing emissions in the state while providing reliable, dispatchable power to support renewable sources.

By replacing dirtier fuels, the use of natural gas will help Xcel reach its goal of “100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030,” that was mandated by the Colorado General Assembly.

Covering the plan, CPR News noted how critical natural gas will be to complement Xcel’s growing renewables portfolio, because the fuel is “dispatchable,” meaning it can provide power immediately when need:

“Xcel, like other utilities, hopes to use natural gas to supply reliable power even as renewable sources fluctuate with the weather. … The proposed plan from Xcel Energy calls for 1,300 megawatts in ‘dispatchable’ generation to balance the power supply.”

Speaking with CPR News, a top official with Xcel said the use of natural gas is also important to provide reliability while new technologies are still being improved:

“Alice Jackson, the president of Xcel Energy Colorado, told CPR News technologies like hydrogen fuel or battery storage can’t meet that need right now.

“‘We know they’re wrong about that,’ Jackson said. ‘The natural gas facilities that are on the system — and will be part of the mix even in 2030 — are necessary to supply that 24/7 resource our customers depend on.’”

Speaking with the Colorado Sun, Jackson again emphasized the need for natural gas to provide dispatchable power, citing the recent winter storm in Texas:

“The plan also calls for adding 1,300 MW of ‘dispatchable’ resources, primarily natural gas and battery storage that can be turned up or down as needed to balance the wind and solar generation. Jackson said the recent problems meeting electricity demand during frigid winter storms earlier this month, particularly in Texas, underscore the need for a diversified system.

“‘Customers depend upon the provision of safe reliable electricity every day.’ Jackson said. To assure the viability of the system, Jackson said ‘balanced resources, diversified generating capacity and dispatchable resources’ are needed.”

This isn’t the first time that Xcel has said that natural gas is vital to providing reliable power as the energy industry moves towards a lower-carbon future. As Energy In Depth wrote in 2019, the Minnesota-based utility acknowledged it will need natural gas to meet its zero-emissions goals as it is relying on technologies that do not yet exist.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported at the time:

“Natural gas currently accounts for 12 percent of Xcel’s power generation in the Upper Midwest, while coal accounts for 30 percent and wind 18 percent. Xcel is counting on natural gas, which emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, to play an important role in supplying dispatchable power as the company exits coal and increases renewables production.”

Nor is Xcel the only utility embracing the reliability of cleaner-burning natural gas. Late last year, Gulf Power, which serves Northwest Florida, announced a major shift to the fuel at one of its power plants that will reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent.

In that same announcement, Gulf Power also touted how natural gas will complement its growing renewables generation:

“In addition, Gulf Power and Florida Power & Light are working together to make Northwest Florida a leader in clean, solar energy that keeps costs down for customers and keeps the region beautiful. Together, the companies have a plan to install 30 million solar panels throughout all of Florida by 2030, positioning Florida as a solar leader.”

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