Xcel Energy’s Carbon Offset Purchase will Help Grow the Twin Cities’ Urban Tree Canopy

Xcel Energy takes climate change seriously. The Minneapolis-based power company has pledged to deliver 100-percent carbon-free electricity to its customers by 2050, along with sufficient electric vehicle infrastructure to provide zero-carbon fuel in every state it serves.

For its natural gas business, however, Xcel Energy needed a different approach. It realized that achieving its goal of net-zero emissions for natural gas would require technological innovation, reductions in demand — and ultimately, purchasing high-quality carbon offsets.

Last month, Xcel Energy joined the Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative as part of an investment in a total of six locally based carbon offset programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado. The company’s purchase of 1,428 City Forest Carbon+ Credits from Green Minneapolis represents the single largest investment yet in Minnesota’s first and only urban tree carbon offset program. 

Carbon offset programs allow companies to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in projects that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By voluntarily purchasing carbon offsets, companies can take ownership of their contributions to climate change by reducing their net carbon emissions over time.

Xcel Energy chose its carbon offset programs carefully. Its strict criteria included that each program be verified by a recognized carbon offset registry and provide benefits to local communities that go above and beyond carbon sequestration — including environmental as well as social and economic benefits.

The Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative’s Carbon Offset Program meets or exceeds all of the criteria. Green Minneapolis launched the program in 2022 in collaboration with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and City Forest Credits (CFC), a carbon registry that registers and issues credits to carbon offset projects. By using the sale of offsets to fund the Twin Cities’ urban forest, the initiative offers a carbon sequestration program that also reduces the local urban heat island effect and provides quantifiable air and water quality benefits to Minnesotans.

So far, the MPRB has approved two separate carbon offset projects with Green Minneapolis, comprising a total of 32,350 individual trees. Over a 25-year life cycle, these trees have the potential to remove an estimated 87,825 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In addition, they are projected to provide nearly $2.4 million in ecosystem services co-benefits, including stormwater mitigation, air quality improvements, and energy savings. 

Over their life cycles, these two projects are estimated to provide up to $3.5 million in new revenue for the MPRB to boost its tree planting and maintenance budget. This represents a major new funding source for the MPRB’s forestry program. The goal is for this additional funding to help MPRB expand the city’s tree canopy and invest in long-term maintenance rather than merely maintaining the existing canopy.

Currently, the Twin Cities’ tree canopy faces ongoing threats from development, road construction and Emerald Ash Borer. A significant loss of urban tree canopy during an era of climate change could be devastating, setting off a cascade of negative environmental, economic and human health impacts. Given the many benefits of urban trees, it’s more important now than ever before to invest in growing and maintaining a thriving urban forest. 

Moreover, not all residents are able to enjoy the benefits of urban trees. As this interactive map shows, the amount of tree cover in Minneapolis varies widely from one neighborhood to another. For this reason, the MPRB prioritizes planting new trees in areas that currently lack tree cover, such as downtown and in the city’s North and South Green Zones, which are defined as neighborhoods that suffer from the combined effects of environmental pollution and racial, political, and economic marginalization.

The offsets purchased by Xcel Energy are generated by the 2022 MPRB tree planting project. On May 26, 2023, the MPRB approved an agreement to collaborate with Green Minneapolis to market and sell the offsets from those plantings. 

Xcel Energy’s participation in the program marks the second successful sale of urban forest carbon offsets in Minnesota, following Winslow Capital’s purchase of 750 City Forest Carbon+ Credits from Green Minneapolis in December 2022. This is the first of three annual sales to Winslow Capital, which entered into an agreement with Green Minneapolis to offset a portion of its carbon emissions with Carbon+ Credits over a three-year period, as well as providing philanthropic support to Green Minneapolis’ Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative. The credits purchased by Winslow Capital originated from the 2021 MPRB tree planting project.

Ways to Get Involved

Green Minneapolis and the Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative rely on financial contributions from individuals and organizations. Please consider supporting our work by donating today.

We encourage companies concerned about their climate impacts to contact us to learn more about our Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative and Carbon Offset Program. Green Minneapolis is committed to providing high-quality, third party-verified carbon offsets that benefit local communities in Minnesota.

Please reach out to Michaela Neu (mneu@greenminneapolis.org) if you would like to connect.