Coal power is becoming an increasingly hot-button news issue in the Midwest, and Minnesota’s no exception. Yesterday, I was interviewed for the Minnesota Public Radio story, “Minnesota utilities don’t want more coal power from North Dakota,” and talked about the multitude of low-carbon products that North Dakota could sell to Minnesota and other markets—including abundant wind resources—instead of coal. North Dakota is currently suing Minnesota because of the state’s restrictions on coal-fired electricity. And today, in the front-page “Brand new power plant is idled by the economy,” the Star Tribune reports that Great River Energy’s (GRE) new Spiritwood coal-fired power plant in North Dakota won’t be up and running any time soon.
But a little background first. During Minnesota’s 2011 legislative session, GRE lobbied hard for an exemption from a state policy passed in 2007—The Next Generation Act—that allows new coal-fired power in Minnesota’s electricity mix as long as it doesn’t result in increased carbon emissions. GRE doggedly pursued this exemption for the Spiritwood plant even though there’s no evidence that Minnesota needs more power. Ultimately, GRE received the exemption and finished the plant.
But now, it has become obvious—even to GRE—that Spiritwood didn’t need to be built in the first place. According to GRE’s September 2011 newsletter, “The change in Spiritwood Station’s operational plan is primarily due to low prices in the electricity market and reduced demand for electricity.”
We’re moving beyond coal in Minnesota. A November 2010 Minnesota poll conducted for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership by a bipartisan research team showed that 69 percent of registered voters support Minnesota’s current policy to limit expansion of new coal projects. It just doesn’t make sense to encourage more dirty energy while we accelerate investment in clean energy.