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Minnesota Power energy plan gets OK

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The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved Minnesota Power’s plan to add more wind-generated electricity, add some hydro and natural-gas-generated electricity and to continue burning coal as well.

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The commission on Wednesday approved the utility’s 2013 energy road map outlining how Minnesota Power plans to provide energy for its customers at a fair cost while also moving to reduce its impact on the environment.

In the plan, which is required by the state every two or three years, Minnesota Power also confirms plans to convert its Hoyt Lakes plant to natural gas by 2015 and to retire one of three coal units at Taconite Harbor on the North Shore. The company expects no loss in jobs through the transitions.

Minnesota Power says costs will go up as utilities transition to cleaner energy, but said the plan approved Wednesday will provide the lowest-cost path to serve its customers.

“We’re pleased with the commission’s decision approving our plan for Minnesota Power to continue diversifying its energy mix in a balanced way that helps ensure reasonable cost and reliability along with increased environmental stewardship,” Alan R. Hodnik, president, chairman and CEO of Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power, said. “Electric power needs to be affordable for customers and cleaner for the environment.”

Environmental groups had hoped to push the PUC and the utility away from making improvements to existing coal-fired power plants — namely a

$350 million plan to add pollution-control equipment to the Boswell 4 energy plant in Cohasset — and instead phase those plants out and add additional wind and solar power.

The PUC approved the $350 million retrofit, which the company says will reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent, limit other emissions and is necessary to comply with the Minnesota Mercury Emission Reduction Act and the EPA Mercury Air Toxics Standard. The project would not reduce carbon dioxide.

Company officials called Boswell 4 the “workhorse” of the utility’s fleet, saying its stable, cheap electricity is critical for the region’s taconite industry and other customers.

Jessica Tritsch, senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal to Clean Energy campaign, said the Minnesota Power plan takes some steps to reduce burning coal, considered the largest culprit contributing to global warming, causing carbon-dioxide pollution.

But Tritsch said the state-approved plan allows the utility to keep burning large amounts of coal as the federal government is moving to regulate carbon dioxide.

“We’re still disappointed that Minnesota Power isn’t embracing its reasonability to move faster toward clean-energy alternatives,” she said. “It shows that their overall path forward relies way too heavily on fossil fuels, namely coal. There are some good points here, namely recuing coal at Taconite Harbor and Laskin. But there’s still too much coal in Minnesota Power’s future, and that’s bad for Minnesota.”

The PUC-approved plan includes:

  • The addition of 200 megawatts of wind energy to Minnesota Power’s system, which the company is proposing to meet through its recently announced Bison 4 project near New Salem, N.D.
  • Delivery of 250 megawatts of hydropower under contract from Manitoba Hydro by 2020, with Minnesota Power planning to deliver this energy on its proposed 500-kilovolt Great Northern Transmission Line.
  • Reduction of coal-fired generation on its fleet by 185 megawatts through the conversion of Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes to a natural gas peaking station and the retirement of one of three units at Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder.
  • Continuation and enhancement of the company’s leading-edge Power of One conservation program to meet or exceed state conservation goals of 1.5 percent.

John Myers | Forum News Service

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Forum News Service
The Forum Communications News Service is the premier news wire service covering the Upper Midwest, stretching from the oilfields of western North Dakota to the plains of South Dakota and to the shores of eastern Minnesota. For more information about the services we offer or to discuss content subscriptions, please contact us.
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