December 4, 2018 / 9:35 PM / 5 days ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-U.S. utility Xcel says aims to be carbon-free by 2050

(Corrects headquarters location to Minneapolis from Denver in paragraph 2)

Dec 4 (Reuters) - Xcel Energy Inc, one of the largest U.S. utilities, on Tuesday unveiled plans to accelerate its carbon reduction goals, saying sharply lower costs for renewable energy and investments in new technologies will allow it to deliver all carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050.

The Minneapolis-based company, which currently produces 60 percent of its power from fossil fuels, said it will slash carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, from a previous target of 60 percent, before going to zero in 2050. It has already slashed those emissions by 35 percent.

The company’s ambitions stand in stark contrast to the federal government’s pro-coal agenda under President Donald Trump, because they will likely further erode flagging U.S. demand for coal. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Tuesday that U.S. coal demand is projected to hit a 39-year low in 2018, continuing a downward trend fueled by cheap natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar energy.

Trump has vowed to revive the fossil fuels industries by rolling back Obama-era environmental protections that he argues kill jobs and provide no tangible benefits.

Xcel’s announcement also coincides with international climate talks taking place in Poland to hammer out the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, a global accord agreed in 2015 to fight climate change from which Trump has pledged to withdraw.

Xcel, which serves 3.5 million customers in eight Midwestern and Western states, called its move the most ambitious ever announced in the electric power industry.

In a statement, the utility said its 2030 goal can be reached affordably with renewable energy and other current technologies. To achieve the 2050 goal of all zero-carbon electricity, however, “requires technologies that are not cost effective or commercially available today,” Xcel said.

“We’re accelerating our carbon reduction goals because we’re encouraged by advances in technology, motivated by customers who are asking for it and committed to working with partners to make it happen,” Xcel Chief Executive Ben Fowke said in a statement.

Xcel’s service territory stretches across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)

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