Xcel Energy operates in parts of the country rich in wind — a resource we’re putting to work for our customers right here in the Chippewa Valley. Today, as the nation’s No. 1 utility wind energy provider for more than a decade, wind generation makes up more than 15 percent of our energy mix in the five-state Upper Midwest area and about 20 percent companywide.

A good percentage of the company’s 6,700 megawatts of wind is on our Upper Midwest system, which serves the homes and businesses of our Wisconsin customers. And we just announced plans to add 1,550 megawatts – the largest multi-state investment in wind capacity in the country. We proposed 11 new wind farms. Of which, seven will be located in our Upper Midwest area — built in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. If all goes as planned, the percentage of wind on our Upper Midwest system will spike to 30 percent by 2021, providing enough energy to power more than 2.1 million homes.

Investments will deliver cost savings over 25 years

The cost of wind power has come down significantly as turbine technology has improved. Given today’s low prices and current tax credits, it is an ideal time to invest in wind to benefit our customers. We are finding that the cost to construct a wind farm is offset by the fuel savings, which in the long run will help to keep energy prices affordable and protect customers from rising fuel costs. Specifically, the proposed wind projects will save more than $4 billion in fuel and other costs over the life of the projects.

Improving wind operations

As an early adopter of wind energy in the late 1990s, we gained valuable experience managing wind generation. Along the way, we improved our operating practices, including the use of advanced wind forecasting. Because we can more accurately predict wind energy, we are powering down fossil fuel plants on windy days, saving customers millions of dollars in fuel costs. We’ve also achieved some impressive operating records. For instance,

  • Wind generation hit a new hourly record on March 4 at 2,333 megawatt hours, delivering 49 percent of the energy needed for our Upper Midwest customers
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  • Over a 17-hour period on March 5 and 6, wind power on our Upper Midwest system supplied more than 50 percent of our energy, with an hourly peak of 59 percent between 11 p.m. and midnight.

Offering customers more

The wind on our system provides customers with clean, renewable energy. It requires no fuel and helps avoid about 11.7 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, as well as other emissions. For customers who want more — like the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire — we offer Windsource, one of the largest voluntary green energy programs in the country. Windsource gives customers the option to purchase more renewable energy, above what we already provide.

Wind not flying solo when it comes to renewables

In addition to wind, our customers benefit from some of Wisconsin’s most treasured natural resources. Eight rivers provide the fuel that generates power at 19 of our hydro plants in the state. Like wind, hydro is a clean, renewable energy source, and collectively these plants avoid carbon dioxide emissions equal to the output of more than 83,000 cars.

We also put clean-burning biomass to work at plants in Ashland and La Crosse, providing a significant economic impact to those area.

The bottom line: we are on a path to significantly cut emissions as we build a more efficient, advanced system for the future, at a reasonable cost to customers. Learn more at xcelenergy.com.

Mark Stoering is the President of Xcel Energy, Wisconsin-Michigan.