Lawmakers to tour coal-fired power plant

Sherco Plant
Becker, Minn.'s, Sherco plant
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2009

Updated: 12:10 p.m. | Posted: 3 a.m.

A group of state lawmakers will tour Xcel Energy's largest coal-fired power plant in Becker Monday.

The tour coincides with a hearing called by the GOP House energy committee chairperson. Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington says the hearing comes in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

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"No. 1 is to give legislators a better understanding of the consequences of the Obama power plan could be for Minnesota," he said. "Second of all is to give people a chance who work at the plant and are in the community to explain the importance of this resource to their local economy."

The federal regulations aim to address climate change in part by reducing carbon emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030. Garofalo and some other Republican lawmakers are concerned the plan will lead Xcel to shut down part of its Sherco plant in Becker.

Meanwhile, clean energy advocates want to accelerate Sherco's retirement.

Xcel Energy has not said whether it will propose retiring one or more of Sherco's three coal-fired units as part of complying with the Clean Power Plan. The utility is expected to provide state regulators with more details about its plans in October.

But Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, said his community is concerned about the possibility.

Sherco employs at least 350 people and adds hundreds of workers to that total from time to time, Newberger said. In addition, nearby Liberty Paper relies on a steam line from Sherco and employs 150 people, he said.

"The ripples from this are going to be hard and damaging," Newberger said during a news conference ahead of the tour. He said Gov. Mark Dayton and other DFLers should oppose the Clean Power Plan, as 20 other states have done.

Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said state leaders should make sure any workers affected by the potential plant closing receive benefits and training opportunities. But she noted that Xcel and state regulators are not discussing shutting down the entire plant, so there would still be some jobs. In addition, it's possible Xcel could replace one of the coal-fired units with a natural gas plant, which would add construction jobs.

"One of the issues we'll be talking about up at Sherco is the transition from old economy jobs to new economy jobs," Hortman said in a separate news conference Monday morning, while announcing a proposed tax credit for Minnesotans taking action on climate change such as by adding solar panels or buying an electric car.

Hortman said state economic development officials have tracked a 78 percent increase in clean energy jobs since 2000, when overall jobs increased by 11 percent in the same time period. She said Minnesota is ahead of many other states in reducing carbon emissions and will be able to comply with the Clean Power Plan without damaging the state's overall economy.