MN utility may be ahead of curve by mixing wood into coal-burning plants

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As coal-burning power plants brace for tighter emissions rules, more of them may follow in the tracks of a Minnesota utility by turning to an old fashioned idea: burning wood.

Minnesota Power serves more than 140,000 customers in the northeastern part of the state. As the New York Times reports, the company's move toward supplementing its coal-burning plants with waste wood might become a trend.

A vice-president at Minnesota Power tells the Times the use of wood has economic benefits in addition to reducing carbon emissions. According to the paper, one of the boilers at Minnesota Power's Grand Rapids plant has run at up to 90 percent wood power.

The utility says waste wood is supplying some of the power to paper mills in Grand Rapids, Cloquet, and Duluth. The Times says Minnesota Power once relied almost entirely on coal. But its current blueprint - a policy the company calls Energy Forward - sets the goal of supplying its customers with one-third coal, one-third natural gas, and one-third renewable sources.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already proposed tighter emissions standards for new power plants. Now the agency is looking at revising the rules for existing plants.

In developing its proposals, the EPA has embarked on an 11-city "listening tour" that brought the agency to Denver last week. The Durango Herald reports there were many critics of tighter emissions at that session, including North Dakota state Senator Jessica Unruh. The Herald reports Unruh has six coal-burning plants in her district and told the agency “Requiring these plants to install commercially unproven technology to meet emissions standards could be potentially devastating.”

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