We Need to Move Beyond Coal to Clean Energy in Northeastern Minnesota

by Shane Solga

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On Wednesday, April 11th a classroom at the University of Minnesota – Duluth was bursting at the seams when more than 100 Northlanders, including Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, turned out to discuss the future of Northeastern Minnesota’s electricity generation. The discussion, moderated by the League of Women Voters, included presentations from five expert panelists: Al Rudeck, Vice President of Strategy and Planning at Minnesota Power; J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director at Fresh Energy; Robert Moffitt, Communications Director at the American Lung Association of Minnesota; Michael LeBeau, Owner of Conservation Technologies; and Bishop Tom Aitken of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Discussion topics included Minnesota Power’s plans for the future of electricity in Northeast Minnesota, the deadly effects of burning coal, and how renewable technologies are becoming the smart choice economically for Minnesota’s energy future.

Northeastern Minnesota is at energy crossroads. Currently, ninety-five percent of Minnesota Power’s electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. During the presentations given by each of the panelists it was recognized that coal does not represent a smart energy future for Northeastern Minnesota, neither in a public health or economic sense. In the coming decades Minnesota Power does plan to invest more in renewable options, such as solar and especially wind, to bring this total down to 51%. What they failed to do, however, is commit to developing a timeline for closing their dirtiest, oldest, and most economically unviable plants: Laskin in Hoyt Lakes, Taconite Harbor in Schroeder, and half of the Clay Boswell Plant in Cohasset. This is what Northeastern Minnesota needs – for our health and our economy.

Investing in clean energy will protect our health. Coal plants are the largest human-made cause of mercury pollution in the world. A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health found that one in every 10 babies along Minnesota’s north shore is born with unhealthy levels of mercury in their bodies. Each of our 10,000 lakes is under a fish consumption advisory because of mercury pollution. Coupled with the air pollution produced by these dirty plants, it makes no sense to keep these power plants open any longer. Just as the American Lung Association reminded us last Wednesday evening, these plants represent a great detriment to public health.

Investing in clean energy by closing these plants also makes great economic sense. Instead of shipping in coal from another state to provide our electricity, it is possible to do it with Minnesota products and Minnesota resources. Every day, people are working to make solar panels right here in Minnesota. One company is even manufacturing them right here in the Arrowhead. Minnesota’s wind potential is estimated to be able to produce more than 25 times the state’s current electricity needs. Why should we want our utility to ship in coal from out of state when we can meet our energy needs right here? For every $1 million invested in clean energy, 16.7 jobs are created. When you compare that to only 5.3 jobs created by every $1 million invested in fossil fuels, it is clear that we can do better than coal here in the Northland.

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 J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy reminded the crowd of concerned citizens several times that there is something that we can do to let our policy makers know that we want clean energy investments in Northeast Minnesota. We can tell Minnesota Power that we want it to close its dirtiest plants at Laskin, Taconite Harbor, and Clay Boswell. Between now and May 7th, it is important that we all contact the Public Utilities Commission and ask them to require Minnesota Power to commit to developing a timeline as soon as possible for closing these coal plants – for the sake of protecting public health and creating more high paying jobs in the Northland.

Write to the Public Utilities Commission at PublicComments.PUC@state.mn.us or in writing to Public Utilities Commission, 121 7th Place East, Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101. When you are writing it is important to include your specific recommendation on the issue and the reason you care about it along with your name and address. When writing put Docket Number PUC Docket E-015/RP-09-1088/ Minnesota Power BDS in the subject of your e-mail.

A complete video of the April 11th clean energy forum, including panelist presentations and public discussion, will be posted later this week at TheUptake.org.

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