Xcel Energy to add even more solar panels to its ‘Sherco Solar’ project as grid reliability dwindles

Xcel Energy continues to push ahead with its Green New aspirations despite mounting evidence that the reliability of the regional electric grid is dwindling.

On May 8, 2023, the company revealed its plan to add a third array of solar panels at its planned “Sherco solar” facility in Becker, Minnesota. The new array would add 250 megawatts (MW) of capacity to the industrial solar site, bringing the total planned capacity of the solar array to 710 MW, making the facility one of the largest solar facilities in the United States.

Xcel’s announcement comes at a time when regional grid operators, the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO), warn that too many reliable power plants, such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas, are scheduled to be shut down without enough reliable plants being built to replace them, increasing the risk of rolling blackouts throughout the 15-state region.

In 2022, MISO suffered from a 1,200 MW capacity shortfall, which means there was not enough reliable power plant capacity on the system to meet the region’s peak electricity needs, plus a margin of safety. MISO estimates this shortfall could grow to 10,900 MW if shortsighted policies like those pursued by Xcel come to fruition.

This shortfall may have got even worse over the last year in response to the closure of nuclear and coal facilities in the region. We don’t know yet because MISO has not yet released the results of its capacity auction. One thing we do know is that Xcel is still planning on shutting down a coal-fired unit at the Sherco coal plant later this year, which will make the entire region more vulnerable to rolling blackouts. Xcel’s solar facility will be of limited use keeping the lights on.

Solar facilities in Minnesota only work around 20 percent of the time, whereas coal plants can be as productive as you need them to be; all one needs to do is burn more fuel.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission should deny Xcel’s desire to retire coal plants and build more solar at a time when the grid is already undersupplied with reliable power plants. Hopefully, the Commissioners will finally start taking these threats seriously, or they will share the responsibility for the negative impacts of electricity shortages.