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Xcel Energy starts to dismantle lofty coal plant icon in Burnsville

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Black Dog power plant chimney set for dismantle
Scaffolding has been added to the top of the old coal chimney at Xcel Energy's Black Dog power plant in Burnsville, Minn., as seen on Thursday.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

Crews have begun removing 7-by-7-foot chunks of concrete and rebar from a 600-foot-tall coal chimney in Burnsville as part of Xcel Energy's transition away from coal-fired power.

The Black Dog power plant started burning coal in the 1950s. It arrived by train, and the tall chimney was needed to disperse pollutants to minimize the risk to people living nearby.

But Xcel stopped burning coal at the plant in 2015 as part of its larger transition away from coal, in part to address the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

"(The chimney) is being removed because this is kind of the final component to converting this plant to natural gas," John Marshall, Xcel Energy's community relations director, said in an interview at the plant on Thursday.

The Black Dog plant started burning natural gas in 2002. It's able to ramp up and down with electricity demand and is part of Xcel Energy's overall strategy to add wind and solar and retire all of its coal-fired power plants by 2030. Further, Xcel is trying to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.

Converting natural gas to electricity requires other, much shorter, emissions stacks, so the old chimney on the Minnesota River in Burnsville is no longer needed. 

Black Dog power plant chimney set for dismantle
From left, Xcel Energy community relations director John Marshall, plant director Jake Gundry, operations manager Josh Foss and community relations manager Michelle Swanson stand in front of the coal chimney at the Black Dog power plant on Thursday in Burnsville, Minn. The chimney will be dismantled piece by piece over the next four months.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

But Marshall says it's been part of the skyline for years.

"It's a little bit of nostalgia as folks are losing this iconic, signature piece along the Minnesota River Valley," he said, adding that a lot of people look for it as the fly into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Way up at the top of the chimney, some scaffolding has been set up where workers are carefully cutting the concrete pieces and lowering them down the chimney's inside, Marshall said.

"And over the next four months it will slowly come down to nothing. So drivers heading along (Highway) 77 will take a peek and see that chimney slowly disappearing over the next four months," he said.

Xcel workers are among those most used to seeing the chimney day-to-day.

"It's fun to look at," said Jake Gundry, plant director for several of the company's smaller power plants. "It's going to be a different landscape."