Coal-burning power plants are Minnesota’s number one source of carbon pollution. Last week, we learned that two of the state’s most coal-dependent utilities will begin to move away from coal and the carbon, mercury, and other air and water pollution it creates.
On January 30, Minnesota Power announced its plan to retire coal-burning units at two northern Minnesota coal plants: Taconite Harbor and Syl Laskin. Currently, Minnesota Power draws 85 percent of its energy from dirty coal plants, the highest percentage of any Minnesota utility. By 2015, Minnesota Power will retire a unit at Taconite Harbor and convert the Syl Laskin coal plant to burn natural gas. In addition, rather than phasing out coal at its Boswell plant, the utility announced plans to invest more than $350 million to retrofit its largest unit to comply with modern pollution standards.
The decision to retire the coal units came after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) required Minnesota Power to address the viability of these plants, encouraged it to diversity its energy mix, and consider investments in cleaner energy.
Fresh Energy—along with thousands of Minnesotans—applaud the long-overdue decision to begin reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. However, the hundreds of millions of dollars Minnesota Power proposes to spend on retrofitting coal plants should instead be invested in expanding renewable energy in northeastern Minnesota. Fresh Energy will provide analyses supporting a PUC decision to focus Minnesota Power’s future investments on renewable energy.
Otter Tail Power
On January 31, the PUC ordered another power company, Otter Tail Power, to add mercury pollution controls by 2015 to their Hoot Lake coal-fired power plant in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and to stop burning coal there in 2020.
Fresh Energy and its partners have focused on regulatory action at the PUC to demonstrate that it is not in the public’s economic interest for Otter Tail Power to continue operation of these very old coal units. Otter Tail has been burning coal at the Hoot Lake power plant for more than 50 years, and pollution emitted from the plant contains dangerous toxins, such as mercury and sulfur dioxide. Soot and smog pollution emitted from coal plants can also cause an increased number of asthma attacks, higher risk of lung disease, and even premature death.
The PUC also ordered Otter Tail to examine stronger energy efficiency practices and expanded renewable energy in its next resource plan, due in December. We encourage Otter Tail to consider low-cost wind power, an abundant energy source in the windiest region of Minnesota.