PUC signs off on $750 million Xcel wind energy project

Minnesota regulators have approved Xcel Energy’s $750 million wind farm “repowering” project, one of several proposals from the utility to help speed up the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Xcel plans to retool several existing wind farms, projecting that ratepayers will save $160 million through efficiency gains. The Public Utilities Commission unanimously agreed on Wednesday despite opposition from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

“I believe the record shows this will lead to substantial customer savings and ratepayer benefits,” said Matt Schuerger, a PUC member, the Star Tribune reported.

Xcel’s project involves rebuilding wind power plants with new wind turbines and bigger blades that will extend their life spans by about 10 years.

“Modernizing our wind farms with new technology will increase the amount of low-cost, carbon-free wind energy we deliver to our customers, while saving money and putting people back to work,” Minneapolis-based Xcel said in a statement.

The project primarily involves four larger wind farms in southern Minnesota, which together have the power generation capacity of 651 megawatts.

That’s about the same capacity as a large coal generator, except that wind power is variable.

Xcel said the projects will create about 700 construction jobs.

Xcel came forward with the proposal after the PUC, in early May, asked state utilities to offer plans that could aid in the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. The PUC put an emphasis on projects that would create jobs and more carbon-free energy, the Star Tribune reported.

Environmental and clean-energy groups supported the wind project. The Commerce Department, which does research for the PUC, had raised concerns about the bidding process for the wind project and whether the forecast savings were accurate.