Just a few short days after President Obama took action to move the nation away from outdated energy produced by coal-fired power plants, Xcel Energy proposes to keep Minnesotans on the hook for many more years of carbon pollution and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