Amendment could foil U steam plant renovation

Kamariea Forcier

The Minneapolis City Planning Commission approved a zoning code amendment Wednesday that could affect plans to renovate the University’s southeast steam plant.
The amendment would prohibit construction of any coal-fired power plant located within a “critical area” on the Mississippi River that does not rely on the river for water or fuel transportation.
The University’s two steam plants are located in the designated area, but would be allowed to continue to operate in their present condition. The ordinance, however, would most likely eliminate the possibility of renovating the southeast plant, an idea administrators posed last year.
After Minneapolis City Council member Joan Campbell introduced the zoning amendment nearly two months ago, it was sent to the zoning and planning committee for review. Council members say the amendment falls in line with the city’s plan to create more recreational space along the riverfront. City officials are concerned about the pollutants that coal-based power plants emit.
The zoning and planning committee subsequently passed the measure and sent it to the planning commission, which consists of representatives from park and school boards, Minneapolis residents and one council member.
The only power plants that would be affected by this ordinance are the University’s main and southeast steam plants.
University officials maintained in public hearings that the council has no jurisdiction over the steam plant because the University has significant autonomy as a land-grant institution.
Pat Kelly, aide to council member Joan Campbell, said if the ordinance is passed by the full council, the city and the University would probably enter into a legal challenge as to whether the city has jurisdiction to enforce the ordinance.
The University’s Board of Regents voted in January to renovate the southeast plant by adding a flexible-fuel burner that could be powered by coal, natural gas or even some types of waste. Under the University’s proposal, the renovated plant would be powered primarily by coal, which administrators found would be the most cost-effective method.
Because of opposition from the City Council, the surrounding community and environmental groups, however, the University looked into moving the power plant to an off-river location. But officials found that renovating the current steam plant is the cheapest option.