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News Release: Clean energy advocates push Minnesota Power to commit to renewables, energy efficiency in energy plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 1, 2013

Contact:
Jessica Tritsch, Sierra Club, 612-963-9642, Jessica.Tritsch@sierraclub.org
J. Drake Hamilton, Fresh Energy, 651-366-7557, hamilton@fresh-energy.org

Clean Energy advocates push Minnesota Power to commit to renewables, energy efficiency in energy plan

St. Paul, MN – Today, Minnesota Power filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), opening a public comment period on how the state’s second largest investor-owned electric utility will improve northern Minnesota’s energy portfolio for the next 15 years. Minnesota Power currently draws more than 80 percent of its power from coal-fired power plants.

“Minnesota Power is taking vital first steps to change their energy mix, but their plan of action does not move quickly enough to address climate disruption or the many health concerns in communities that surround its coal plants,” said Jessica Tritsch, Organizing Representative with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. “Spending billions of dollars importing fossil fuels from other states and retrofitting coal plants without making more significant investments in renewable energy or efficiency will keep Minnesotans locked into dirty energy, rather than leading on clean energy development now.”

At the end of January, Minnesota Power announced that it would stop burning coal in one unit at its Taconite Harbor plant by 2015, and convert units at its Syl Laskin coal plant to burn natural gas. This decision came after the Minnesota PUC supported a motion to put Minnesota Power on notice that its Syl Laskin and Taconite Harbor coal plants may be too risky and costly to be granted rate recovery, starting in 2016. Minnesota Power was also ordered in December to include an evaluation of retiring outdated Clay Boswell coal-burning units 1 and 2 by 2020 in today’s draft plan; Minnesota Power included plans to continue operating these units past 2020.

Minnesota Power also announced in January that rather than phasing out coal at its Clay Boswell plant, the utility plans to invest more than $350 million to retrofit coal-burning unit 4 at the plant to modernize controls for certain pollutants, not including carbon pollution. “Saddling ratepayers with huge capital costs for an aging coal plant, when the costs of running that plant into the future will go up substantially, is not in the best public interest,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy.

“As Minnesota Power proposes plans for the next 15 years of electric generation in northern Minnesota, customers must push them to maximize efficiency and energy savings now,” said Hamilton. “Increasing efficiency in our businesses and homes allows us to avoid reliance on imported, dirty coal.”

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, current available technology can cut electricity use by one-quarter by 2020 through efficiency alone. Based on the average electricity production of the nation’s large coal-fired power plants, this would allow communities to phase out burning coal at an estimated 60 large power plants across the nation.

While Minnesota Power has recently made significant investments in wind energy, completing construction of more than 400 megawatts of wind power in 2012, the utility’s IRP did not include any plans for investment in solar energy. Solar is a form of renewable energy that has seen exponential growth over the past five years. More than 6,000 petitions demanding more solar were delivered to Governor Dayton in 2012, and 87 percent of Minnesotans polled support increasing the use of solar power in the state.

“It is time for Minnesota Power to recognize the popularity and viability of solar power,” said Tritsch. “Last year, Minnesota Power’s pilot solar rebate program sold out due to overwhelming interest. Solar energy can create jobs in northern Minnesota as well: there are solar array manufacturers who stand to benefit by increased local production. Investment in solar energy would keep Minnesota dollars cycling through our own state’s economy, rather than out of state paying for coal.”

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Today, Minnesota Power filed its Integrated Resource Plan to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, opening a public comment period on how the state’s second largest investor-owned electric utility will improve northern Minnesota’s energy portfolio for the next 15 years.

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