Minnesota Senate says yes to Becker power plant

Sherco Plant
Sherburne County Generation Plant in Becker, Minn. October 2, 2012.
Jeffrey Thompson for MPR News 2012

The Legislature moved Thursday to sidestep utility regulators and approve a new Xcel Energy power plant in central Minnesota.

The natural gas-fired plant in Becker is meant to offset losses from two coal-fired generators when they close in 2023 and 2026. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission sidelined Xcel's proposal in October. However, bills passed in both chambers of the Legislature mean the plant can move forward without fulfilling the regulator's request to research renewable energy options.

Republican Sen. Andrew Mathews of Milaca, the bill's author, said the plant will solve long-standing power concerns that have been one of his community's top concerns. Xcel will still be subject to oversight throughout the project, he said, which will include measures to make sure that ratepayers aren't overcharged.

But Democratic lawmakers pushed back against the bill, saying they didn't believe the cost control protections were adequate.

Roseville Democratic Sen. John Marty said Xcel is pursuing a speedy timeline for the project to please its shareholders, not Minnesota residents.

"This is a monopoly utility," he said. "Because it is a monopoly, someone is supposed to be weighing all of the evidence."

The House approved a similar bill last week and Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign the Senate version of the bill.