District Energy St. Paul stops burning coal

It's a move toward more sustainable energy production.
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District Energy St. Paul is done with coal.

The local, nonprofit utility announced last week it will retire coal as of March 31 - meaning as of Monday, District Energy is no longer burning the carbon-based fuel.

Eliminating the use of coal will reduce the plant's CO2 emissions by about 10,000 tons per year - the equivalent of taking 2,100 cars off the road, the announcement said.

And that's after District Energy already reduced carbon emissions for its heating system by 57 percent from 2000-17.

District Energy heats 197 buildings and 300 single-family homes in and around downtown St. Paul. and cools 116 buildings in the same area. One of the ways it generates heat is by burning wood waste from the region (using a renewable-friendly "combined heat and power" plant). The utility company also uses chilled water storage and solar thermal.

The elimination of coal came two years earlier than the target date, the utility company said.

President and CEO Ken Smith, in the announcement, said the company has to look at new technologies that “benefit our customers and the environment." The company has more sustainability measures to reduce its carbon footprint planned, which it hopes to announce in July of 2019.

Clean power in Minnesota

The state has put an emphasis on shifting to clean and renewable energy sources in the decades ahead, as coal- and gas-fired utilities are the largest source of CO2 in the US, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

Minnesota is still working to surpass the goals laid out by the 2015 federal Clean Power Plan, despite the Trump administration's EPA taking steps to repeal the project.

The state said renewables accounted for 21 percent of the total energy generated in Minnesota in 2016, and Gov. Tim Walz has laid out a vision for a 100 percent clean energy Minnesota by 2050.

It's not only District Energy moving that way. Xcel Energy, for example, will be decommissioning two of its coal-fired plants at Sherco in Becker in 2023 and 2026 as it pushes ahead with its renewable energy plans. (Though to cover some of the lost energy generation in the meantime, it wants to build a 750MW natural gas plant at the site.)

The Department of Education is also considering new science education standards that would teach students about the impact humans have on the environment, including climate change.

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