Program would let Fargoans get all their power from wind, sun
FARGO — Dean Hulse wouldn't mind paying more for his electricity if every kilowatt was generated from clean energy sources like the sun and the wind.
He's prodding city officials to work with Xcel Energy to bring its Renewable Connect program here, a program that derives all of its power from renewable energy sources.
The program has been popular in Minnesota—so popular that all of its capacity, 50 megawatts of wind generation and 25 megawatts of solar energy—is being used by customers.
Hulse wants the city to use authority it has under its home rule charter to require Xcel to make the renewable energy program an option for electricity customers. Xcel has a franchise agreement with the city.
"It's going to take political will to make this happen, either at the state or local level," said Hulse, a Fargo resident and renewable energy supporter. "Fargo has the power through its home rule charter to make this happen."
In essence, the city is an important intermediary between consumers and utility companies that operate within the city, Hulse said.
"They're basically our purchasing agent for gas and utilities," he said.
Noting that Xcel's Renewable Connect program is fully subscribed in Minnesota, Hulse said there is obvious consumer demand for a voluntary program.
"If I have to be on a waiting list, fine," he said.
Bruce Grubb, the city administrator for Fargo, said city officials have discussed the possibility with Xcel, but the timing of when a renewable-only electricity option could become available is up to the utility.
In response to inquiries by Hulse and others, "We're taking a look at that in our conversations with Xcel Energy," he said. "They are open to the possibility. We're not there, but it is being discussed."
David Sederquist, a senior regulatory consultant for Xcel in North Dakota, said the company is studying the possibility of extending its Renewable Connect program to the state. First, the firm has to determine how much demand there is for renewable energy. Then, it has to determine the best energy sources to meet that demand.
"It's kind of a balancing act," he said.
Under the program, residential and commercial customers sign an agreement that could run up to five or 10 years. That provides provides price certainty that is especially attractive to businesses.
In Minnesota, electricity generated from wind turbines or solar panels is slightly more expensive than the conventional electricity, Sederquist said.
But wind power costs in particular have fallen with technological advances, and thanks to a federal tax credit that helps defray costs, he said.
"The solar is still a little higher on the cost side," Sederquist added. "It's starting to be more economic."
The renewable-only electricity option appeals to customers like Hulse who want to use clean energy, and Sederquist said Xcel wants to support that. Xcel has embraced renewable energy sources, with 27 percent of its power mix coming from wind and solar.
Counting nuclear energy, which does not produce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the share increases to 40 percent, according to company figures.
If Xcel were to extend its Renewable Connect program throughout its service area in North Dakota, it would have to seek approval from the Public Service Commission. In the past, commissioners have not been eager to approve renewable energy projects that are not price-competitive, Sederquist said.
But they might be more receptive, he added, to a program that is strictly voluntary.
Xcel has plans to add another 1,850 megawatts of wind capacity, including a couple of proposed wind farms in North Dakota. So it would certainly have the ability to expand its Renewable Connect program, Sederquist said. The program has almost 3,300 customers in Minnesota, most of them residential users.
In North Dakota, "We're not seeing a large outcry," for the renewable-only electricity option, he said.
Still, he added, the option might become available in a year or two. "I would say we're not too far out on this thing," Sederquist said.
Hulse will be ready whenever that happens. Because he and his wife have downsized to a smaller home, and increased the home's energy efficiency, he predicts he wouldn't pay more for energy than they did in their previous home, even if his electricity rate increases.