'It turned out that [wind] was exactly what they wanted'
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a nice positive article and interview by reporter Neal St. Anthony recently about the tenure of Dick Kelly, who is retiring, as CEO of Xcel Energy.
Kelly has been instrumental in propelling Xcel into a national leadership position in wind power during his six years as CEO. The interview includes a quote from him that should be food for thought for utility executives around the country:
"Q: You bet hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars on improving efficiency and generating 30 percent of your juice from wind and other renewable sources by 2020 in Minnesota, and meeting lower renewable mandates in adjacent states. You produce more power and less pollution since 2003, according to federal filings.
"A: There was some risk. But Minnesota and the Dakotas were natural places to take a chance on wind. The wind is strong here. Some other utilities were getting 20 to 30 percent capacity out of wind turbines, but our tests showed we could get 40 or 50 percent. So that lessened the risk. I was worried about the regulators and customers. It turned out that this was exactly what they wanted. We spent a little more money up front, but the customers, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and [past] legislatures have been great [in supporting our strategic investments in efficiency, conservation and alternative fuels]. We now lead the nation in wind-generated electricity. Conservation and energy-saving technology are the cheapest form of energy and we have some of the most successful programs in the country for business and residential customers." (emphasis added)
As St. Anthony notes, the results have been strongly positive. While Xcel was moving to the #1 spot in terms of the total wind capacity on its system (3,458 MW, or enough to power the equivalent of more than 1 million average American homes), its annual return to shareholders has been 9.6% during Kelly's years at the helm, well above the Standard & Poor's utility index average of 7.1%. Those are accomplishments any CEO could be proud of.