MN Power Avoids Immediate Closure of Northland Coal Plants

By KBJR News 1

August 10, 2012 Updated Aug 10, 2012 at 2:02 PM CST

Minnesota Power was in St. Paul Thursday fighting to keep three of its small coal fired power plants in operation.

The state Commerce Department has recommended that the Public Utilities Commission require Minnesota Power to shut down these plants by 2017.

Despite overwhelming evidence and broad public support for replacing these aging coal plants with cheaper, cleaner power sources, Minnesota Power was able to buy some time yesterday.

Minnesota regulators are deciding whether to shut down aging coal burning plants, in the face of a changing energy sector.

The Public Utilities Commission is currently deciding whether to shut down two plants on the Iron Range and one up the North Shore. The Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes and Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder are flagged as polluters.

Minnesota Power is under pressure from environmental agencies to crack down on dirty energy and switch to more sustainable options.

"Really it's a question of whether people believe that all Americans deserve to breath clean air or not," says Franz Matzner, the associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resource Defense Council.

The small coal units have come under fire after a required study done by Minnesota Power raised concern among regulators.

The utility company agrees that they need to continue looking into possible options for these plants.

"We're constantly making decisions about our fleet in the best interest of our customer. We're balancing cost, reliability and the environment that we all value in this region," says Minnesota Power spokesperson Amy Rutledge.

The mayor of Hoyt Lakes--the location of the Laskin Energy Center one and two--urged the commission to consider the economic impact of shutting down the plants.

"Property taxes collected at the Laskin Energy Center represent over 70% of our tax base," said Mayor Marlene Pospeck.

She want on to ask the council to give Minnesota Power more time to conduct further studies before making a final decision.

Thursday's hearing comes on the same day that the Natural Resource Defense Council released a study naming Wisconsin among the top twenty worst states in terms of toxic air pollution from power plants.

The N-R-D-C says proposed laws that will crack down on aging coal plants--like those currently under review in Minnesota--are constantly under attack by lawmakers with special interests and big power companies.

"Polluters and their allies on capitol hill spent a good portion of last year trying to strip the EPA of the tools to try and reduce toxic, industrial pollution," said Matzner.

Today, Minnesota Power was cut a break by the commission. They were given until March to further analyze the plants and their environmental and economic impact.

An eventual ruling from the Public Utilities Commission could give MN Power the option to retrofit the plants instead of shutting them down.

Courtney Godfrey
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