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Jamie Thingelstad's personal website

Xcel Energy Cheating Customers

I’m mad.

I’m a big supporter of alternative energy. For the last 3 years I’ve voluntarily paid a surcharge to Xcel Energy to fund the purchase of wind power equal to the amount of electricity I consume. This program is called Windsource. I pay $2.00 per 100 kWh of electricity, and I buy 16 units of this to account for our total electrical consumption. Every month I tack on $32 to my electricity bill and have been happy in the knowledge that our entire house is powered by renewable energy.

In addition to the WindSource program that I just mentioned, Xcel also collects a “curtailment payment” from all customers to fund wind-generated electricity. This is not an optional payment. If you are a customer, you are paying it. Then the Star Tribune broke this article on June 1st, Public Paid for idled wind farms.

It turns out that in 2004 Xcel paid wind farms to idle their turbines because Xcel could not transfer the power. Xcel doesn’t have the transmission lines to accept the power. By the way, they aren’t doing much about it either as you can read in the article.

When I signed up for WindSource I asked the person “How can I insure that my money is going to wind power?”. Turns out there really isn’t a good solution for the individual consumer. Relying on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission seems like the only real option, but they may be part of the problem.

Xcel Energy customers should be mad. We should be mad for being sold a bill of goods that wasn’t true. And we should also be mad because Xcel isn’t being a responsible corporation.

See also: KARE11 Article, WCCO, Minutes of MnPUC (page 2)

6 Comments

  1. yuck! didn’t see the article, I too have been paying for wind power and now they are just taking the extra $$ for what?? So do they have a protest line?? Time to investigate where all the extra $$ goes, has gone………

  2. "…it takes only a few months to build a large wind farm but it requires several years to construct the transmission lines to move the power the farm produces." — Project management 101. "You think we should build the foundation first?" Doh?

  3. Actually Ronald Reagan is at least partially responsible for this one. Back in the bad old days when liberals ruled the country, public utilities were under strict rules about how the transmission grid was maintained and how much excess available transmission capacity was required for system stability, growth and many other factors. Good ole Ron thought it would be a good idea to deregulate public utilities and, as part of the deregulation, many of the rules governing the power grid were relaxed. Let the market take care of it! Well, this deregulation has led to any number of problems including the massive blackout in the Northeast a couple of years ago, and the problems with Enron and the state of California. Another consequence is that public utilities are no longer required to maintain the tranmission infrastructure the way that they used to and from their point of view, why should they put money into expanding transmission capacity if it doesn’t translate to their bottom line. Another part of the problem is that wind power is extremely variable so it’s a transmission engineers nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending xcel energy, it’s just that the issue isn’t as black and white as it seems on the surface. It’s extremely difficult to do capacity planning with a mix of gas turbine, coal, nuclear and wind power sources. In addition, now transmission capacity is itself a commodity so it might be more profitable for xcel to sell their excess transmission capacity to someone else instead of using it for wind power transmission.

  4. Louis DeJardin

    July 10, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Yeah… Large corporations aren’t evil of course, since they don’t have an individualized identity on which the word "evil" would apply, that said they do a darn good job of simulating it in so many ways. Sort of like the artificially intelligent quality you see in advanced computational systems, there’s this artificially immoral quality in advanced commercial systems.

  5. Paying the Windsource rate for power does not mean that all the energy for your home is being generated with wind power. It simply means you are paying additional moneys to build the wind infastructure that you are bitching about not being in place yet. Your number one recourse for not being "cheated" is to be an informed consumer, which perhaps you should work on.

  6. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments Jen! It’s so nice to see people being so friendly.

    However, I disagree with you. Xcel sells this service to customers saying that they will be buying wind power in the amount you specify to offset your usage. They do not say that the customer is funding the building of infrastructure.

    Excuse me for feeling that corporations should actually do what it is they say they are going to.

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