The Colorado Public Radio headline proudly says “Xcel Energy Vows 100 Percent Carbon Reduction By 2050.”
This and many other news reports extol Xcel’s supposed promise to be emissions-free by 2050. Many, including Gov. Jared Polis, take this to mean 100-percent renewable. None of this is true, but Xcel is doing nothing to correct the record. This is wrong.
A careful read of Xcel’s statement reveals that they are not promising to do anything. What the fine print says in passing is that if certain unproven technologies turn out to work then they might be able to become emissions-free by 2050. This is a vague hope, not a promise.
So all they are promising is to think about maybe getting emissions-free. However, the widespread public misconception is giving them great publicity. This publicity is no doubt good for their stock price, especially among investors looking to go green, which many are these days. Ironically the technology in question would let Xcel keep burning fossil fuels. In this sense it is the very opposite of 100 percent renewables.
The technology is called “carbon capture and storage” or CCS. The idea is simple enough but so far it has proven impractical in practice. First you use chemicals to scrub the carbon dioxide from the fossil fuel-burning power plant’s emissions. Then you inject it underground and hope it stays there.
There are two big problems here. First, since CO2 is a major product of combustion, there are huge amounts of it, probably millions of tons a year for a typical power plant and billions nationwide. So it takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort to do all the scrubbing, which is hugely expensive.
Second is the hazard of stuffing this much gas under where people live. In the experiments going on they are putting it into old gas wells, but these are tiny amounts compared to the real deal.
It is quite possible that CCS will never be cost-effective, which makes Xcel’s famous promise completely hollow. It is a fine thing to hope for new technology like CCS, but that is what they should clearly say they are doing.
Xcel is not promising to be emissions-free by 2050 and they are certainly not promising to be 100-percent renewable. If they are using public misconception to hype their stock price, that action is bordering on stock fraud and they should correct the record immediately.