Xcel Energy names Chris Church new chief nuclear officer
Church succeeds Pete Gardner as leader of company’s nuclear fleet
Yesterday, Xcel Energy named Chris Church as the company’s new chief nuclear officer, effective Dec. 15, 2023. Church succeeds Pete Gardner, who is retiring at the end of the year after serving in the role 2020.
“Chris has had an unblinking commitment to operational excellence over his years of leadership experience in the nuclear industry, including his time at Xcel Energy,” said Tim O’Connor, Xcel Energy executive vice president and chief operations officer. “This experience makes him supremely well qualified to build on our track record as an experienced operator of carbon-free, always-on nuclear power plants.”
The strong performance of Xcel Energy’s fleet at Monticello and Prairie Island is a key factor helping the company cut carbon emissions by 53% from 2005 levels. The Monticello and Prairie Island plants provide about 30% of the power the company supplies to customers in the Upper Midwest. Because nuclear plants generate carbon-free electricity around the clock, they complement wind and solar resources while providing hundreds of good-paying jobs in their local communities.
Church has served as vice president of nuclear operations since 2020 and was site vice president at the Monticello plant for two years before that. Prior to joining Xcel Energy, he held several senior leadership roles in other nuclear fleets, including vice president of operations support for Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and site vice president of that company’s Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear power plants. He was previously a submarine officer in the United States Navy.
“Excellence in nuclear energy generation is a job that’s never finished,” Church said. “I’m proud of our nuclear team’s performance, which positions our Monticello and Prairie Island plants as a foundation of the company’s future and Minnesota’s clean energy goals.”
Gardner is retiring after nearly 40 years in the nuclear industry, including 10 years at Xcel Energy, and he provided steady leadership of the company’s nuclear fleet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Operational innovations during his tenure include a process for flexing down nuclear generation when low-cost wind resources are abundant and a forthcoming hydrogen demonstration project at Prairie Island. Xcel Energy’s nuclear fleet continues to be recognized for sustained exemplary performance by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations while achieving a 35% reduction in operational costs over the past 10 years.
“In his time with the company, Pete helped transform the Xcel Energy nuclear fleet into one of the best in the country, with a focus on reliable operations and a forward-thinking vision,” O’Connor said. “The performance of our nuclear fleet under his leadership has positioned Pete’s legacy as one that will enable a bright future for nuclear power in Minnesota.”
Recognizing the important role of nuclear energy in the state’s goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently unanimously approved the Monticello plant for an additional 10 more years of operations. Xcel Energy has also received stakeholder support for a future extension of the Prairie Island plant’s operating life.
Learn more about Xcel Energy’s nuclear generating plants here.