- A Minnesota Senate committee voted 7-2 to advance a bill that would alter how Xcel Energy recovers investments made in its nuclear fleet, drawing concern from some customer advocates.
- The utility operates three units and according to the Star Tribune, will need to invest more than $1.4 billion through the end of their operating licenses.
- The bill now heads to the full Senate, and a similar measure is pending in the House. The bill would move the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's consideration of nuclear costs outside of Xcel's broader resource planning. But a veto looms.
The issue of nuclear cost recovery is complicated, but in this instance the outcome may be simple: Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he will not sign the measure, so Xcel's cost recovery method will likely remain the same. But what the utility wants, it says, is more predictability on the matter as it heads into an investment-heavy stretch.
"These end runs to the Legislature to try to give special interests what they want violates the whole purpose of the Public Utilities Commission," Dayton has said.
Consumer advocates say it amounts to a "blank check" and shifts risk from shareholders to customers.
Xcel operates the Monticello Nuclear Generating Station, which is rated at 671 MW. The plant began operating in 1970 and following a 2006 license renewal is planned to operate until 2030. Xcel says it recently completed projects associated with the relicensing, including replacing components, that boosted its capacity from 600 MW to 671 MW.
Xcel also operates a pair of reactors at its Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Station, producing 1,100 MW in Red Wing, Minn. The units generate about 20% of the energy Xcel delivers in the Upper Midwest. Unit 1 began operating in 1973 and Unit 2 in 1974. Following license renewals, the units will operate until 2033 and 2034.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Mathews (R), who says the measure would simply allow Xcel to know earlier if it can recover expenses for upgrades required at its three nuclear units. The original bill was modified, following concerns raised by Xcel's large customers, renewables advocates and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, to bolster input from the commission.
John Farrell, an initiative director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said the bill was "galling" in light of past cost overruns. "After public regulators held their shareholders accountable for the mismanagement at Monticello, Xcel Energy wrote this bill to make sure shareholders win no matter the cost to Minnesotans," he said in a statement.
According to the group, the legislation would essentially be "a blank check for power plant retrofit costs and guarantees profits for shareholders."