City Council asks West Bank plant to use natural gas

by Shira Kantor

Answering the pleas of several area pollution-control groups, City Council members took steps Tuesday to make sure Minneapolis residents can breathe a little easier.

A City Council committee approved a resolution requesting energy provider Xcel Energy to convert its Riverside coal plant into one that burns natural gas instead.

The Riverside coal plant, located on the University’s West Bank, is among six state coal plants not required to conform to the standards of the Clean Air Act because they were built before the act was passed in 1970.

According to the city’s resolution, Minnesota generates 68 percent of its electricity through coal burning – the largest industrial source of air pollution.

The six exempted plants are permitted to produce five to 10 times the amount of dangerous nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions than their restricted counterparts – a rallying point for environmental groups that have pushed for energy reform.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency – which, along with the Sierra Club and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, has been advocating air pollution control – monitors toxins in the air.

The MPCA watches for high levels of six “criteria” pollutants – ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Particulates are federally regulated particles less than 10 microns in diameter.

In the Twin Cities levels of the criteria pollutants failed to meet federal standards throughout the 1990s, according to a MPCA report.

Ward 6 City Council member Dean Zimmermann said he appreciated the move but didn’t want to stop with the coal-to-gas conversion.

“Any time that we can stop burning coal it will be of great benefit to our great-grandchildren,” Zimmermann said, “but we want to be sure we see this only as an interim step.”

Zimmermann said renewable energy sources such as wind power should be the ultimate goal.

The resolution will be forwarded to Friday’s council meeting, where the entire council will vote on it.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at
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