The company made the first-of-its-kind agreement with New York's attorney general, who subpeonaed it and four other utilities under a 1921 law giving it access to corporate financial records to fight fraud. Xcel will explain potential climate liabilities in its 10K filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"Some companies do report some amount of information but I would say this is by far the most extensive," said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at Ceres.
Until now, corporations have disclosed climate change-related action and risk voluntarily or in response to shareholder activism. But Wednesday's agreement could nudge others in the industry to reveal more.
Under the agreement, Xcel must assess potential financial risks from current and future regulations, litigation and physical effects of climate change. It must report its current and projected emissions, as well as past and proposed mitigation strategies. It also will say whether environmental performance is built into corporate pay or bonuses.
"We previously provided detailed information concerning the expected impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions regulations on our operations, and under this agreement we will make even more detailed disclosures," Xcel Chairman Dick Kelly said in a statement.
Xcel, which operates in eight states, bills itself as the largest utility provider of wind power in the country. Though it has slashed emissions by more than 18 million tons since 2003, it's still one of the biggest utility polluters in the U.S. Nearly half of its electricity portfolio is derived from coal, and the company is building a new coal-fired power plant in Colorado.
Attorney General Mario Cuomo used New York's Martin Act to look into Xcel's financial records, a seldom used tactic that gained popularity under Eliot Spitzer to go after Wall Street heavyweights.
Xcel made no admission or denial of wrongdoing in the agreement. The investigation of the four other utilities, AES Corp., Dominion Resources, Dynegy and Peabody Energy, are ongoing.