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NREL Data: There’s Virtually No Demand for Voluntary Renewable Energy Programs

I often hear that there is a massive demand for wind and solar power among utility customers, but if this were true, one would expect participation in programs like Xcel Energy’s Windsource and Renewable Connect to be off the charts. However, according to data compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), almost no one enrolls in these voluntary programs.

For example, NREL data show Xcel Energy sold 424,589 megawatt hours (MWh) of voluntary renewable energy in 2017. That may sound like a lot, but it accounts for just 1.39 percent of all the electricity Xcel sells in Minnesota.

When you consider the fact that Xcel Energy operated in eight different states and  generated more than 68.8 million MWh’s at Xcel-owned assets in 2018, the amount of renewable electricity that was purchased through voluntary agreements amounts to 0.6 percent of Xcel Energy’s total sales from their power plants. This percentage dropped to 0.4 percent if you account for power that Xcel buys through other retailers.

Participation rates don’t look much better if you look at raw customer data, either. According to NREL, Xcel had 113,772 program participants in their voluntary green power purchasing programs in 2017. This equates to about 3.6 percent of their total customer base.

In other words, 96.4 percent of Xcel Energy customers didn’t want renewable energy enough to voluntarily pay a premium for the privilege of having it. This is notable, because according to Xcel’s cost calculator for the Renewable Connect program, it would cost the average Minnesota household an extra $6.93 per month to use “100 percent” renewable energy, or an extra $83 per year.

Some folks will undoubtedly argue that the demand for renewables has manifested itself in the form of people voting for politicians who promise to require ever-increasing quantities of wind and solar on the grid, but talk (and voting) is cheap. If you want more wind and solar on the grid, you should pay a premium for it, and those who don’t want to pay more for their electricity should be able to opt out of paying extra for wind and solar.

Unfortunately, as it stands now the amount of voluntary renewable energy purchased doesn’t even help satisfy Minnesota’s renewable energy mandate. This should change. If people want more renewables on the grid, they should be the ones to finance it.