Sierra Club to Xcel: Retire 2 Sherco coal generators

Sherco Plant
Coal is piled at the Sherburne County Generation Plant (Sherco) in Becker, Minn. October 2, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Sierra Club on Monday urged Xcel Energy to retire two of its coal-powered generators at the utility's largest Midwest power plant.

The Sherburne County Generating Station near Becker, Minn., supplies enough electricity to power more than 2 million homes. Environmentalists say the plant, known as Sherco, emits too much carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Sierra Club's request comes as Xcel prepares to negotiate the plant's future with state regulators. Sherco units 1 and 2 were built in the 1970s. A third coal-fired unit built in 1987 has been offline for repair work for nearly two years. Xcel has said it expects that unit will be up and running by the end of the month.

"It's the largest polluter in Minnesota. People realize that it's dirty, it's dangerous, and we have better solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency to replace it. And those solutions are ready and it's time we start to get moving," said Joshua Low, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Minnesota.

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Amid noisy construction work and light rail trains on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, Low and several other organizers delivered two boxes of letters and comment cards to Rick Evans, Xcel's director of regional government affairs.

Low said the comments urging the retirement of Sherco units 1 and 2 are also being sent to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The public comment period in the process to evaluate Sherco's future ends Oct. 1.

Xcel is considering the environment along with costs and the electricity needs of its customers, Evans said. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new regulations for coal-fired power plants sometime next year that could make coal generation more costly.

"This particular look at the Sherco plants is a complex decision involving costs and environmental benefits and the energy needs of our customers, and all of those are factors that have to be considered and reconsidered as the facts change," Evans said.

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.