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Port: Xcel Energy should stop blaming the pandemic for rising utility bills

The shift to renewables has been great for grandstanding politicians and corporate behemoths, the latter of which has enjoyed the benefit of many billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies as a result, but it's left we, the taxpayers, on the hook not just for the subsidies but for higher utility bills and less electric grid reliability. No wonder Xcel doesn't want to talk about this stuff.

An abandoned farm house sits below a wind turbine near Wilton, N.D. Will Kincaid / Bismarck Tribune

MINOT, N.D. — Heating our homes this winter is going to be a lot more expensive, the headlines tell us.

Xcel Energy , a major utility company in our region, has been on a public relations campaign warning about this. "Heating costs could jump this winter amid surging natural gas prices," reports our own Adam Willis, citing estimates from Xcel concluding that the average North Dakota household will pay $164 more in heating bills this year.

Xcel's messaging is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic as the driving force behind this spike in prices. "Production has not yet rebounded from the pandemic and there's greater demand in the country and through exports," Matt Lindstrom, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy, told a Minnesota publication .

Not mentioned, no doubt because it's not terribly convenient for Xcel's green energy push, is that the "dash to gas" for electrical generation is what's driving higher utility prices.

That's really not a debatable statement.


We saw it coming, and we did it anyway.


Let's hop in our time machines and go back 13 years to 2008 and the tail end of the George W. Bush administration.

A Department of Energy report from that era about natural gas and electricity prices predicted exactly what's happening now (it's also where I'm stealing the term "dash to gas" from).

"Coal-fired generation has restrained the price of electricity and has constrained the price of natural gas from matching the rise in the price of oil," the report's summary states. "Currently, opposition to coal plants and uncertainty over nuclear power has stymied the construction of new baseload generation. This threatens a capacity shortage in many areas of the country, in the near term. Additionally, should climate change legislation pass, the 'dash to gas' will be exacerbated, doubling natural gas consumption for power generation, increasing dependence on foreign energy sources, and sending natural gas and power prices skyward across the country."

Those words, from more than a decade ago, were prescient.


We are shutting down coal and nuclear plants.

We have boosted electrical generation from gas to replace that capacity since the intermittent power wind turbines and solar panels can't be relied on.

We have thus sent natural gas and power prices skyrocketing.

Xcel Energy is using the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the economic weirdness it has wrought, as cover for what was an inevitability of our misguided and myopic energy policies.

Grandstanding politicians have made oceans of production subsidies available for wind and solar (there are no production subsidies for coal or nuclear energy). In some parts of the country, the use of renewables is mandated.

Meanwhile, giant companies like Xcel Energy have shifted to renewables to capture those billions upon billions of dollars in subsidies.

It's all been great for the politicians and the utility companies.

It's less great for we, the taxpayers, who are on the hook not only for the aforementioned subsidies but also for higher utility bills.


Oh, and we get to enjoy blackouts, too, as our energy grid increasingly shifts away from stable-priced baseload energy like coal and nuclear and toward wind, solar, and gas, which are volatile both in terms of production and price.

No wonder Xcel Energy doesn't want to talk about this stuff.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at
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