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Environmental group turns up heat on Xcel to ditch coal at Sherco units

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The Sierra Club is urging Xcel Energy to stop burning coal at two of its generators in Sherburne County.

Xcel and state regulators are negotiating the future of the two older units at the Sherco power plant near Becker. MPR reports the Sierra Club Monday delivered boxes of letters to an Xcel executive urging the utility to move away from coal toward solar or wind energy. A public comment period on the issue ends October first.

The Xcel executive who received the letters told MPR the decision about Sherco's future is a complicated one involving costs, environmental benefits, and the energy needs of customers.

But after studying its options, the company decided this summer it wants to continue burning coal at Sherco, at least until federal regulations are revised.

Xcel needs new regulatory approval from the Public Utilities Commission for its two oldest coal-burning units at Sherco. The PUC had ordered the company to weigh the cost of updating those 1970's-vintage units against the cost of converting to a different power source.

Their decision to stick with coal is not popular among environmental groups, which say the Sherco plant is Minnesota's biggest single source of carbon emissions.

Xcel also has a third coal-burning generator at the Sherco plant, but that one is newer and is not up for regulatory renewal. That third unit has been inactive for nearly two years because of damage to its turbines, but Xcel recently told the PUC it expects to reactivate Unit 3 by the end of September.

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