Time to retire coal plants

by Grant Ruckheim, University student

Moving States Beyond Coal is a campaign that intends to retire coal-powered plants to reduce the impact on climate and human health that coal use has, eventually transitioning to clean energy resources.

Did you know that the Clean Air Task Force estimates that particle pollution from Xcel Energy’s Sherburne County coal-powered plant causes an estimated 1,600 asthma attacks and 92 deaths each year? The Sierra Club also says the plant, known as Sherco, reported emissions of 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 440 pounds of mercury in 2011.

Xcel recently announced the Black Dog coal plant would move beyond coal. With a surprisingly quick turnaround, Xcel’s Black Dog power plant in Burnsville, Minn., will stop burning coal in April 2015.

Federal regulations, which go into effect in April and mandate stricter capture of mercury emissions from coal, inspired this transition. Meanwhile, utilities all over the state are well below their planned coal reserves because of BNSF railway delays.

Xcel Energy’s Sherco plant in central Minnesota, one of the largest coal facilities in the Midwest, is at about 57 percent of its targeted inventory and will likely lead to steep electricity prices this winter.

However, we have other options such as solar and wind that companies like Xcel could invest in that would not depend on railways or unsustainable fossil fuels.

Why don’t we take the shaky reliability of coal, which can increase electricity prices for Minnesotans — in addition to the tangible health concerns related to burning coal — as motivations to move beyond coal?