Xcel Energy Proposes to Continue Burning Coal at Minnesota’s Biggest Polluter

Just a few short days after President Obama took action to move the nation away from outdated energy produced by coal-fired power plants, Xcel Energy proposes to keep Minnesotans on the hook for many more years of carbon pollution and health-threatening soot and mercury pollution from its Sherco coal-fired power plant.

Last year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) required a study from Xcel examining the costs to continue to burn coal at Sherco’s two older coal burning units, Sherco 1&2, versus the costs to replace these units.

On Monday, July 1st, Xcel Energy submitted its study for the future of Sherco – Minnesota’s most dangerous coal-fired power plant, and the state’s single, largest source of soot and carbon pollution. In every scenario where Xcel considered the costs of pollution from the Sherco plant, it makes more sense to retire than to invest and continue to operate; yet, Xcel is recommending to continue burning coal at both units.

In lieu of the urgent progress we must make to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce health risks in our communities, Xcel Energy’s recommendation to continue burning coal at Sherco is a step backwards for health and for our childrens’ future.  The Sherco coal-fired power plant is the state’s biggest contributor to climate disruption and is on the EPA’s “watch list” as one of the top emitters of toxic mercury and sulfur dioxide in the nation. A study by the Clean Air Taskforce found that soot (particle pollution) from Sherco leads to an estimated 1600 asthma attacks, 150 heart attacks and 92 deaths each year.

The recommendation also misses a huge opportunity for investments in clean energy. Xcel Energy knows the potential of clean energy in Minnesota. Xcel is already ahead of schedule to meet the state’s renewable energy standards. Instead of continuing to invest in an old coal plant, Xcel Energy should be investing in clean energy like wind, solar and energy efficiency, which are already powering Minnesota and creating local jobs.

Xcel acknowledged that they expect to revisit this question in the not-too-distant future due to anticipated public health protections from the EPA. Pollution from Sherco contributes to soot and ozone pollution in the Twin Cities Metro, haze pollution at our National Parks, and global climate disruption. New health protections for these pollutants would make sure that Xcel Energy is paying for the cost of that pollution instead of the public. Yet instead of planning now to reduce the pollution and transition to clean energy, Xcel recommends no action on the same day most of Minnesota was under an air quality alert for soot pollution.

As President Obama made clear in his speech last week, we cannot wait to take action to address climate disruption. The PUC must require Xcel Energy to plan responsibly for our future by replacing its old coal burning units to clean energy that doesn’t harm our health or climate.

This summer, we will have the opportunity to weigh in on this decision, letting Xcel Energy and Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission know that Minnesotans want a clean energy future.


One response to “Xcel Energy Proposes to Continue Burning Coal at Minnesota’s Biggest Polluter

  1. On July, 9, Beyond Coal Central MN organized a successful forum in Clearwater, Minnesota to raise public awareness of the negative effects of burning coal at the Sherco coal plant in Becker and to encourage public involvement in the push toward clean energy policy. Over 160 people came to hear polar explorer Will Steger and J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, speak about climate change and the need to move beyond carbon producing power plants such as Sherco. During the forum, Steger’s slide presentation provided vivid, first-hand observations of global warming and fossil fuel emissions’ dire and sudden effects on the polar regions. Steger said that it is no longer possible to travel to the North Pole by dog sled because of large areas of open water. Steger commented that when he first started traveling to the North Pole, he never dreamed that he would some day be traveling by canoe. Two-thirds of the Arctic Ocean is now open in the summertime, he said. Steger worries about mass extinction of animal species due to climate change and calls for an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions over the next 20 years if there is hope of saving the polar regions. “If we continue burning fossil fuels as we are today, in the very near future the ice shelf at the poles will slip into the ocean,” he said.

    J. Drake Hamilton focused on clean energy solutions. Hamilton argued that more action needs to be taken to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy such as solar and wind. Hamilton believes that Minnesota is a leader in clean energy with the creation of thousands of wind and solar jobs, but still more needs to be done. The state, she said, is looking at options for clean energy business opportunities at a point where our older coal burning power plants no longer make economic sense. Hamilton said that carbon pollution from coal burning power plants is “the number one cause of global warming” and called on state policy makers and forum attendees to take action to reduce the threat of climate disruption for the sake of our children.

    Near the end of the forum, Sierra Club handed out cards asking attendees to get involved in the push to move beyond coal. A large number of those present handed back completed cards, expressing their concern and interest in doing more on this critical topic.

    Sierra Club and The Central MN League of Women Voters were co-sponsors of the event.

    Through October 1, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will consider public comments on the future path of Sherco 1 & 2 in Becker. Consider getting involved at this critical juncture in the clean energy movement and call on the PUC to require Xcel Energy to replace Sherco with clean energy options like wind and solar. The Sierra Club can provide more information on what needs to be done. Also, below is a link from Fresh Energy that enables you to submit comments to the PUC on Sherco’s future.



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