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News Release: Victory for clean air as Minnesota Public Utilities Commission orders Otter Tail Power to stop burning coal at Hoot Lake coal plant by 2020

Decision marks second announcement this week in Minnesota to phase out burning coal at power plants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 31, 2013

Contacts:
Emily Rosenwasser, 312-251-1680 x119, emily.rosenwasser@sierraclub.org
Jessica Tatro, 612-963-9642, jessica.tatro@sierraclub.org
J Drake Hamilton, Fresh Energy, 651-366-7557, hamilton@fresh-energy.org
Beth Goodpaster, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, 612-308-0093, bgoodpaster@mncenter.org
Duane Ninneman, Clean Up the River Environment, 320-808-3101, duane@cureriver.org

Fergus Falls, MN – Today, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ordered Otter Tail Power to retire its Hoot Lake coal plant in Fergus Falls by 2020. The announcement comes just one day after Minnesota Power, the state’s second-largest utility company, announced plans to phase out burning coal at two of their facilities. Otter Tail Power has been burning coal at the Hoot Lake power plant for more than 50 years, and pollution emitted from the plant contains toxins dangerous to health like mercury and sulfur dioxide. Soot and smog pollution emitted from coal plants can cause an increased number of asthma attacks, higher risk of lung disease and even premature death.

“Today’s decision is another step in the right direction as Minnesota continues a transition beyond coal,” said Jessica Tatro, Sierra Club Beyond Coal organizing representative. “Between 2000 and 2010, Minnesota reduced its use of dirty coal by 11 percent, yet we still get less than 10 percent of our electricity from wind and solar and over half from coal. Moving forward, Otter Tail Power must make a commitment to expanding investments in renewable energy and energy conservation.”

In today’s meeting, the PUC also ordered Otter Tail Power to consider stronger energy efficiency and expanded renewable energy in their future integrated resource planning process. Otter Tail Power is uniquely positioned to economically capitalize on wind energy potential, which creates nearly double the jobs per million dollars invested than fossil fuels, and energy efficiency.  The wind potential in Otter Tail Power’s service area puts projected wind energy costs lower than continued coal burning at the utility’s power plants.

“Minnesotans spend $20 billion every year to buy energy from out-of-state sources,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy. “Phasing out dirty coal plants like Hoot Lake gives Minnesota the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation by investing in more solar and wind power, creating thousands of Minnesotan jobs, cleaning our air and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Despite the announced decision to phase out burning coal at the Hoot Lake power plant, Otter Tail Power plans to invest at least $10 million to comply with modern mercury emission standards by 2015 in order to continue burning coal at the facility until 2020.

“Mercury emitted from the Hoot Lake coal plant affects our water in western Minnesota,” said Duane Ninneman, renewable energy program director of Clean Up the River Environment (CURE). “Today’s decision will lower the risk of mercury contamination in our waterways. Phasing out coal vastly improves the health of the surrounding community and helps us keep our water clean. We have urged Otter Tail Power to consider a retirement before 2020, however, because every day that pollution comes from the Hoot Lake plant, our health is put at risk.”

Other clean energy allies echoed the same concerns about Hoot Lake’s retirement timeline.

“This is a major victory for health in western Minnesota, but why throw good money at continuing to burn coal for another eight years?” said Beth Goodpaster, clean energy program director with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Otter Tail hasn’t reduced its carbon pollution since Minnesota reductions were enacted in 2007—eight more years of Otter Tail’s sustained global warming pollution levels should not have received a regulatory “shoulder shrug” at the PUC.”

“We applaud the Public Utilities Commission for recognizing the need to phase out coal, but Minnesotans can’t wait for clean air and will lose out by waiting to build clean energy,” added Tatro.

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Today, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission ordered Otter Tail Power to retire its Hoot Lake coal plant in Fergus Falls by 2020. The announcement comes just one day after Minnesota Power, the state’s second-largest utility company, announced plans to phase out burning coal at two of their facilities.

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