Regulators accelerate coal plant retirements in northern Minnesota

Minnesota regulators have approved a plan to retire coal-burning power plants in northern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday approved Minnesota Power's 15-year resource plan. It calls for retiring two older coal units at the Clay Boswell plant in Cohasset by 2022, which is two years earlier than the utility proposed. The Taconite Harbor plant in Schroeder would stop burning coal permanently by 2020.

Duluth-based Minnesota Power plans to invest more in wind, solar and natural gas, but regulators called for more analysis on the right mix within the next few years.

Sierra Club organizer Jessica Tritsch said the environmental groups following the case were pleased that the PUC made changes to the utility's original plan in favor of clean energy.

"Fossil fuels we know are costly to our health, to our climate, to our well-being, and this really sets us on a path where Minnesota Power can really move forward with retiring old, dirty coal plants and look toward wind, solar and energy efficiency to meet new needs," Tritsch said.

About 1,500 customers in Minnesota Power's service territory submitted comments urging more ambitious clean energy plans for the utility, she said. Environmental groups are concerned about climate change and also argue that relying too heavily on fossil fuels could be more expensive for Minnesota utility customers in the long-run.

Minnesota Power says it's long-term goal is to transition from about 75 percent coal generation now to one third coal, one third renewables and one third natural gas, a strategy officials are calling EnergyForward. Ten years ago Minnesota Power generated about 95 percent of its electricity from coal.

Minnesota Power officials say their resource plan is balanced and aims at preserving reliability and protecting affordability.

"EnergyForward is about balancing reliability, affordability and sustainability," said Al Hodnik, CEO of Minnesota Power's parent company, ALLETE Inc.

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