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Chris Clark Interview

 

Powering Sustainability

Xcel Energy, a Premier Partner of MNHS, has throughout its history played a key role in powering the expansion of the Twin Cities and its suburbs—from meeting the growing energy needs of a booming post-war population, to revolutionizing home kitchens with electric appliances and establishing today’s advanced electricity grid.

Chris Clark — president of Northern States Power Company–Minnesota, an Xcel Energy company — talks about what’s in store for the state’s energy future.

Chris, you’ve been with Xcel Energy for over 15 years. How have you seen the company evolve during that time?

When I first got to the company, we were still in the earlier phases of bringing wind onto our system and learning how to integrate that into our mix. We’ve been the nation’s number one wind provider now for 11 years straight, a designation provided by the American Wind Energy Association.  We’re also taking the next steps to improve how we predict the amount of wind generation we’ll get and what the market demand will be, then planning longer term for other forms of power generation.

Another important policy decision was our Metropolitan Emission Reduction Proposal, where we worked with the communities, the Public Utilities Commission and the government agencies to put together a plan that would reduce emissions in the Twin Cities metro area. This was good for our system and positioned us well for the future. It resulted in the conversion of two of our older coal plants—the High Bridge Plant in St. Paul and the Riverside Plant in Minneapolis—to natural gas, and we also made significant upgrades to our King Plant in Stillwater.

Then there’s our recent Clean Energy Partnership with Minneapolis, where the community expressed interest in sustainability goals and working with us to make collaborative decisions about the utility service we provide. It's an example of a great initiative that’s had wonderful benefits both for Xcel and the city of Minneapolis.

We’ve had an opportunity to play a pivotal role in helping lead energy policy in the states we serve. The White House has recognized us for being on the cutting edge of approaching these issues.

How are the needs and demands of today’s customers different than they were 10 or even 5 years ago?

We’re seeing more residential and industrial customers who are interested in helping choose what their energy mix will be—such as with the Windsource® program, where customers can opt for an energy mix powered by wind. That's been a very successful program for us and it’s one of the most successful green energy programs in the country. And we’re looking for additional opportunities to provide those choices to our customers.

Tell us about the changes you envision heading our way in the near future.

We’re in a really exciting time in the energy industry. We filed a resource plan at the beginning of 2015, which is our process of looking all the way out to 2030 and beyond. In that plan, we state that we expect to double the amount of wind production that we have on our system to make it a quarter of our Upper Midwest energy mix by 2030. We also plan to bring on almost 10 percent solar by 2030. With these investments, we expect to achieve over 40 percent carbon reduction from 2005 levels, making us 63 percent carbon-free by 2030. That puts us on the cutting edge of utilities that are figuring out how to adapt to state and national policy changes, while adding renewables to our system as cost effectively as we can.

On the horizon, it’s clear that we'll see a continual national shift away from coal in the energy mix. Part of what we tried to address with our resource plan was how to do that most cost effectively, to achieve the most carbon reduction and get the most benefits for the system overall. I think that we'll see more and more utilities looking to solutions like the ones we put forward, and being much more creative than they have been to date.

People have heard a lot about drones, and we’re finding practical ways to use them to keep our costs as reasonable as possible. We’ve had recent press coverage about our use of drones to look for places where there might be trouble on our lines, so that we can address it before we have a power interruption. It’s pretty fun to see that kind of technology come into our business.

Not to brag, but I do think we’re on the leading edge of trying to find solutions to the challenging issues in front of us.