With long-range plan, Otter Tail Power begins to exit coal

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Clean Energy Organizations applaud utility’s newly filed Integrated Resource Plan which adds renewables and lays out plans for ending investments in one of two coal plants. 

Otter Tail Power filed its long-range energy plan, known as an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The plan, which will set the direction for the utility’s electricity generation and investments for the coming decade, includes the utility exiting coal at one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country and adding more renewables. 

Clean Grid Alliance, Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Sierra Club—collectively the Clean Energy Organizations (CEO)—applaud Otter Tail’s plan to exit coal at one of its two coal-fired power plants as well as the utility’s planned electricity generation additions, which include renewables and do not include any new fossil electricity generation.  

Currently, Otter Tail Power imports a portion of the electricity for its western Minnesota customers from two coal-fired power plants that the utility operates and owns with three other utilities: Coyote Station Power Plant in Beulah, N.D. and the Big Stone Plant in Big Stone, S.D. In its IRP, Otter Tail Power outlines plans to exit Coyote Station as operator and co-owner in 2028. Otter Tail Power also plans to add new renewables—150 MW of solar in 2025 and 100 MW of wind in 2027. The CEOs applaud Otter Tail Power’s plan to exit coal at Coyote Station, which is increasingly uneconomic and one of the most polluting coal units in the country for both NOX and SO2, which contribute to haze pollution in places like Theodore Roosevelt and Voyageurs National Parks and significant human health impacts. The CEOs look forward to analyzing Otter Tail Power’s plan and proposing options for an earlier exit from Coyote Station, and taking a close look at the economics and timelines for retirement of the Big Stone Plant. 

“Ottertail Power’s resource plan is a great step forward in the utility’s transition from fossil fuel to renewables,” said Allen Gleckner, lead director, clean electricity at Fresh Energy. “However, there’s an opportunity to both save money and reduce emissions by exiting Coyote Station even sooner than 2028 and we look forward to researching what that could look like in this resource plan.” 

“As Minnesota battles extreme drought and wildfires and the South endures devastating flooding and hurricanes fueled by a warming ocean, the impacts of climate change have never been more real and the need for action more urgent,” said Ellen Anderson, Climate Program Director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “We must make dramatic reductions in our climate pollution by the end of this decade by retiring polluting and uneconomical coal plants like Coyote and Big Stone and quickly transitioning to renewable energy.” 

“Otter Tail Power’s plan to stop investing in the Coyote coal plant–one of the dirtiest coal plants in the United States–is a clear victory for OTP’s ratepayers,” said Jessica Tritsch, Senior Campaign Representative with the Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign at the Sierra Club. “Likewise, OTP’s decision to focus on expanding renewable energy, instead of new fossil gas, will benefit the region’s health and avoid contributing to the ongoing climate crisis. But there’s still more work to be done: We now need OTP to retire the Big Stone coal plant and commit to 100% clean energy.”

Otter Tail Power’s long-range energy plan will impact both Minnesota and North Dakota’s energy and climate goals. This year, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz set a goal for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and by replacing coal with renewables, Otter Tail Power will contribute to Minnesota’s efforts. Additionally, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum called for North Dakota to be carbon neutral by 2030 and support workers and communities through the energy transition. By ending investments in its North Dakota coal plant, Otter Tail Power can play a key role in helping North Dakota reach its goal.