MINOT, N.D. — Given where I live, I'm obliged to be a customer of Xcel Energy.
Wouldn't it be something if power markets were competitive, and we got to choose who we buy our electrons from?
As an obligatory customer of Xcel Energy, I'm also on the hook for their regular barrages of self-congratulatory corporate ballyhoo.
I don't normally spend a lot of time reading what they blitz my inbox with, though I have, on occasion, spared a thought or two for the poor schlubs who, for their salary, are tasked with writing utility company propaganda for a captive audience of customers.
Still, a recent message caught my eye.
"From adding more wind energy to our system to retiring coal plants early, we’re committed to building a clean energy future for our communities," the company said in its most recent exercise in patting itself on the back (emphasis mine).
Is now the right time for a utility company to be bragging about shutting down baseload power?
This winter, we saw terrible blackouts that affected millions of Americans in ways ranging from mere annoyance to serious property damage and even death.
Meanwhile, energy customers, including those forced to patronize Xcel, are bracing for utility bill spikes thanks to the company's increased dependence on intermittent energy like wind which gas-powered peaking plants must buttress.
In the blog post Xcel's email touted, they extoll a shift in their energy mix from 2019 to 2020 in which the only real change is an increase in wind power and a decrease in coal power. Wind is up 6 percentage points, and coal is down 5.
Xcel insists that their politically-driven shift toward reliance on intermittent wind energy will not make our energy grids less reliable.
Yet, even as the company crows about breaking a "carbon reduction record," America's utility companies are failing at their most important job, which is keeping the lights on consistently.
Even as the cost of the light bill accelerates, as the Minnesota-based Center for the American Experiment pointed out in a 2019 article: "(E)lectric bills in Minnesota started increasing substantially after 2005, exactly when renewable energy generation in the state started growing at a significant rate."
We're paying more and getting less.
The problem isn't renewable energy technology. The invention and innovation taking place in that area have been remarkable, and it should continue.
The problem is actually the political campaign to send us careening toward greater and greater degrees of dependence on intermittent sources of power, long before they're ready to replace baseload power like coal, at the expense of both power grid reliability and our wallets.
I hope Xcel and other companies are called to account for their political campaign against baseload power.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.