ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS will get their chance to speak about plans to shut down Sherco at a Dec. 5 PUC meeting in Minneapolis. Advocates on both sides of the issue are encouraged to attend or register to speak at the meeting. (Photo by Bill Morgan).

Sherco opponents to address PUC

Contributing Writer
Bill Morgan
Polar explorer Will ­Steger and St. Paul attorney Barbara Freese, author of “Coal: A Human History,” are among the activists who want ­regulators to consider shutting down the two oldest coal units at Xcel’s Sherco power plant by the end of the decade.
State regulators delayed a procedural decision on Xcel Energy’s long-range plans recently to give people a chance to weigh in — but briefly (three minutes each).
As a courtesy to prominent climate activists, the state Public Utilities Commission has set aside time at its Dec. 5 meeting to hear their views on a procedural matter with implications for the future of coal-based electricity in Minnesota.
“The issue is not to slate these huge units for closure right now,” Freese said in an interview. “The question is whether we can do it in 2020. Closing units this big really takes years of planning.” 
Boosters from the Beyond Coal and Sierra Club advocacies turned up in Becker a little more than a month ago trying to sway public opinion and — at that time — claiming they were not interested in shutting down the plant, just interested in converting the coal-burning plant to an alternative power source like wind or natural gas.
Rep. Jim Newberger and Sen. Dave Brown ran the meeting and both are pro-Sherco and have vied to work hard to keep the plant operational.
“Shutting down the Sherco plant would have a devastating economic impact on this area,” Newberger said at the Oct. 19 meeting. “There are 1,600 jobs between both plants and if Sherco were to shut down, Becker will go back to when it was a town of 300 people with no schools and very little business.”
Some climate activists believe the only thing to plan for now is shutting down Sherco’s two oldest units. 
Sherco units 1 and 2 supply about 20% of the electricity used by Xcel’s 1.2 million Minnesota customers. The plant 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities also has a third, newer unit. Altogether, the plant burns three trainloads of coal daily and is the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.
When Steger, Freese and Rose Thelen, founder of Beyond Coal Central Minnesota, asked to speak to the point of closing Sherco last month, the PUC decided to delay the Xcel vote until next week so anyone else could offer comments.
Xcel is spending $33 million on mercury and other emission controls to keep Units 1-2 running for now. But the ultimate fate of those units will be examined in the utility’s next long-range plan, which is to be presented to the PUC in 2014.
Anyone who has something to say can sign up by next Monday by phone or e-mail, but the registration is first come, first served. The commission said it will allow 30 minutes for all speakers, with no more than three minutes per speaker.
Steger, whose Minneapolis-based foundation is dedicated to addressing climate change, said he’s been traveling around the state talking and listening to people about climate change.
“I think in three minutes I can make my point pretty clear,” he said.


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