By - Jim Vess

Xcel Energy agrees to close three coal-fired units in Minnesota ahead of schedule

Energize Weekly, May 29, 2019

Xcel Energy reached a settlement with a group of clean energy and labor organizations to close two Minnesota coal-fired power plants and clear the way for it to buy a natural gas-fired plant.

Under the agreement signed May 20, Xcel will shutter the 511-megawatt (MW) Allen S. King coal plant in Bayport, Minn., by 2028.

The 876-MW Sherco unit 3 will close by 2030 and 682-MW Sherco unit 2, in Becker, Minn., will be switch to seasonal operation until it is closed in 2023.

The closures will come some 10 years ahead of previous plans. As part of the agreement, Xcel will purchase the 730-MW natural gas-fired Mankato Energy Center.

The Sierra Club has opposed the natural gas-fired plant purchase, but withdrew its comments as part of the settlement.

“Minnesotans have been calling for a transition from coal to clean energy for more than a decade, and we just took one huge step closer to a coal-free Minnesota,” Jessica Tritsch, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said in a statement.

In December, Minneapolis-based Xcel announced a goal of having net-zero carbon emissions from its power system across eight states by 2050.

As part of that plan, it is closing two coal-fired units in Colorado, with a total of 660 MW of capacity, and plans to add 1,000 MW of renewable generation and storage at a cost of $2.5 billion.

Under the agreement, Xcel said it will also add at least 3,000 MW of solar power in Minnesota and seek 70.6 gigawatt-hours a year in energy savings.

Xcel also agreed to consider local job impacts of the plant closures and to use local labor on solar projects. The agreement allows Xcel to build the solar projects itself if it can match or beat the bids in its call for proposals from energy developers.

“Minnesota’s electric utilities have provided middle-class wages, health and retirement benefits to generations of Minnesota workers and their families,” Tim Mackey, president of the Laborers International Union of North American—Minnesota & North Dakota (LIUNA), said in a statement. “This proposal will help to ensure that we create the same kind of high-quality jobs as we move toward a clean energy future.”

Xcel’s plan also calls for bringing 1,850 megawatts of wind online in Minnesota by 2022.

“Today’s proposal from Xcel Energy to accelerate its transition from coal to clean renewable solutions like wind and solar is a landmark step for the company, our state and our climate,” Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a Minnesota non-profit promoting clean energy, said in a statement.

Along with Fresh Energy, LIUNA and the Sierra Club, other parties signing the agreement were the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Center for Energy and Environment.

Xcel’s Upper Midwest Energy Plan will be formally submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on July 1.

“This is a significant step forward as we are on track to reduce carbon emissions more than 80 percent by 2030 and transform the way we deliver energy to our customers,” Chris Clark, president, Xcel Energy – Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said in a statement.

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