THERE WERE PLENTY OF ADVOCATES FOR BOTH SIDES OF THE SHERCO ISSUE with (left to right) Rep. Jim Newberger, Sen. Dave Brown, Xcel Energy’s Rick Evans and Beyond Coal’s Curtis Winer doing their best to sway any uncertain citizens to the reasons to keep open or shut down Becker’s Sherco power plant. (Photo by Bill Morgan)

Sherco arguments are heard

Contributing Writer
Bill Morgan


“Sherco is an unbelieveable clean coal plant compared to other power plants around the world.”
Those words came from the lips of one of Beyond Coal’s advocates,  Curtis Winers, a claim that even had Rep. Jim Newberger raising his eyebrows.
Last Saturday, Rep. Newberger, along with Sen. Dave Brown, held a “town hall” meeting at Pebble Creek to discuss the desire by a local detractor to shut down Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant.
Environmentalists say the Sherco plant emits too much carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.
Newberger and Brown — advocates for keeping up the operation of Sherco and the jobs that go with it — initiated the meeting to give people on both sides of the argument the chance to voice their ideas and concerns. This following the Sierra Club’s brawny advertising campaign to get the plant shut down by 2020.
The Sierra Club has been urging Xcel Energy to retire two of its coal-powered generators at the utility's largest Midwest power plant. This request came as Xcel prepared to negotiate the plant's future with state regulators. Xcel says it plans to continue using Sherco Units 1 and 2 for now, saying the timing and cost of future carbon dioxide regulations are key factors in determining the plant's future.
Sherco Units 1 and 2 were built in the 1970s. A third coal-fired unit built in 1987 was recently repaired and is currently back online.
Newberger started the meeting championing his stance on why he believes the plant should stay open. He explained that of the state’s five million residents, the Sherco Power Plant — along with Monticello’s nuclear plant — provide three million of those five million people with their energy each and every day.
“Shutting down the Sherco plant would have a devastating economic impact on this area,” he said. “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.”
Newberger said the goal of the Sierra Club is to shut down all 500+ coal-burning plants in the United States and have succeeded in shutting down 150 so far.
“They’ve been getting grants from organizations and other states to continue their efforts and have been successful in closing down all coal-powered plants in the state of Kentucky,” he said.
Sierra Club boosters have claimed the coal-burning power plants attribute to heart disease and heart attacks.
“I am a health care professional (paramedic) and my research shows that there is no connection to air quality problems with the Sherco Power Plant,” Newberger said. “There is no data that shows a direct link to heart disease and Sherco.”
Newberger said his research found that there were five days where there was an air quality alert in the Twin Cities in 2012 compared to 29 in 2003.
“That goes to show you the air quality in the state of Minnesota is improving,” said the representative. “And that includes zero alert days in Ely.”
Newberger mentioned Ely because members of the Sierra Club have claimed a “haze” has developed over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and they attribute the haze to Becker’s Sherco power plant.
One member of Beyond Coal’s coalition said he can see a “slime” of oranges and browns outside his home in Clearwater drifting in front of his eyes when the air is calm and clear. He attributes the slime to be directly caused by the Sherco Power Plant.
Many people in the crowd of 100 scoffed at the Clearwater man’s claims.
Sen. Brown took the floor and said he is an advocate for the baseload energy supplied by Sherco in which the energy demand can be met 24 hours, seven days a week, all year ‘round while wind and solar cannot.
“It’s a low cost facility that can run all times through the year except in cases of repairs or scheduled maintenance,” he said. “It’s very efficient and safe.”
Rick Evans, director of regional affairs at Xcel Energy, said the three units at Sherco are currently in compliance with air quality control and his company is presently looking at possibly investing in newer pollution control technologies.
“That can be a very expensive endeavor and we believe the most sensible thing to do right now is to leave options open until there is greater clarity and certainty on environmental regulations and the associated costs. To switch from coal to natural gas is very expensive.”
Rose Thelen, another  Beyond Coal supporter, said her organization is only interested in finding a clean, renewable energy to replace the coal producing plant.
“We are not asking to have the plant shut down,” she said. “We just want Xcel Energy to make a decision now on what they plan to do  instead of waiting 15-20 years.”
Several pro-Sherco supporters pointed out the falsehood Thelen and other Beyond Coal crusaders stated in saying they are not interested in shutting down the plant.
“The Sierra Club’s goal is to shut down the Sherco plant by 2020,” said Rick Hendrickson. “It’s in their report to the Public Utilities Commission.”
“We’re Central Minnesota Beyond Coal,” said Winers. “We’re not affiliated with the Sierra Club. Our goal is to get Sherco to transition to a cleaner, more renewable energy than coal.”
Becker City Administrator Greg Pruszinske was asked about the tax impact Sherco has on the City of Becker.
“In 2013, they (Xcel Energy) paid approximately 77% in property taxes and in 2014 it will be 75%,” he said.
Sen. Brown said, “so, if there’s no Sherco to pay those property taxes, who picks up the tab if Sherco shuts down?”
“We will,” said many from their seats.
Many believe Becker will become a ghost town.
“It will affect the jobs, the businesses, the schools and the economy,” one supporter of Sherco voiced.
With Winers’ affirmation of Sherco being an “unbelievably clean coal plant”, Newberger suggested he and the Beyond Coal organization dedicate their efforts on areas of the world where air pollution is a real problem.
“I’ve been to Russia, China, the Ukraine and other places and their coal burning systems consist of a chimney with no filtration structure,” said Newberger. “If cleaner air is your passion, I suggest you go to where the pollution is worst and try and do something about cleaning that air.”


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