The Public Utilities Commission ordered Xcel Energy to study the cost of new pollution control equipment at two of its coal-burning units in Sherburne County and compare that with the cost of replacing them with a cleaner alternative. Environmental groups consider the order a victory, but Xcel says it was planning something similar. The study is due next summer.
The Commerce Department urged the Public Utilities Commission to order the three northern Minnesota plants closed by 2017 and replaced with energy from wind or natural gas. Instead, the commission ordered Minnesota Power, which owns the plants, to study the effects of closing them and report back next spring. The average age of the plants is more than 50 years.
The unanimous decision by the Rochester Public Utilities board to decommission Silver Lake Plant by Dec. 31, 2015, is part of a nationwide trend, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports. The decision puts the coal-fired plant in northeast Rochester in line with 114 coal plants across the country to either switch to burning natural gas or shut down.
Minnesota Power says it wants to further study the environmental benefits and economic impacts. The Department of Commerce recommends closing at least three of utility's coal-burning plants by 2016. Each unit is more than 50 years old. Environmental groups have also urged closing the coal power plants, while industrial users want state regulators to disregard the advice.
Xcel Energy will soon need to purchase new pollution control equipment if the company wants to keep burning coal at its largest Minnesota power plant in Becker. Environmental groups want the state to order the utility to study alternatives to coal, especially solar and wind power.
Minnesota's Department of Commerce recommends closing Minnesota Power’s five oldest coal-fired power plants by 2020 to save consumers money. The Duluth News Tribune reports environmental groups have also sent letters urging the Public Utilities Commission to close the plants to reduce emissions.
The Post Bulletin reports Rochester Public Utilities officials could decide to shut down some or all of the generators. Another option is converting the generators from coal to natural gas. RPU just completed a nearly $40 million upgrade to keep its newest generator in compliance with new EPA regulations.
Therefore, North Dakota officials feel the state should be exempt from a Minnesota law that requires utilities to pay more to burn coal, even those from out-of-state. It's part of Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 that requires new coal power emissions to be offset.
Gov. Dalrymple says if Minnesota energy regulators require utilities to pay more to burn coal it will hamper North Dakota's growing lignite industry, which already provides a large share of Minnesota's electric power. Regulators here imposed higher costs on coal-burners as part of a plan to require utilities to generate a quarter of their energy from renewable sources by 2024.
A consortium of six North Dakota utilities and coal mining companies is chipping in $500,000 to fight Minnesota's ban on energy generated by burning coal. The state's Industrial Commission filed the original lawsuit. The North Dakota legislature is also committing funds for the legal challenge.
Spiritwood Station, 85 miles west of Fargo, cost $437 million to build, but now Minnesota's Great River Energy is shutting it down just after starting it up. One executive tells the Star Tribune that running it would mean losing money half the time. The utility plans to keep the plant offline until at least 2013.