Residents speak out against Xcel plant emissions

by Robyn Repya

Air pollutants emitted by Xcel Energy’s Riverside coal-burning power plant continue to concern University-area residents and neighborhood organizations.

The plant’s air emissions permit is up for renewal this year, and a number of neighborhood and environmental organizations plan to speak out against the plant’s volume of air pollutants at a public meeting Thursday, organized by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Located on the east bank of the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis, the plant has been criticized by some environmentalists as one of Minnesota’s heaviest polluters.

Controversy surrounding the plant’s permit has been building for a long time.

Area residents and environmental activists met with legislators Sept. 15 in north Minneapolis to discuss the plant.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, said at the meeting that she wished the plant would go to gas and “join the 21st century.”

A similar forum held in January prompted several bills from Higgins, including one mandating the state put five new air quality monitors in the metro area.

Attendees said meetings that bring community members and lawmakers face-to-face with residents to discuss issues that affect them all are important.

Joe Bishop, plant supervisor at the Riverside plant, attended the September forum as a community liaison to bring concerns to Xcel’s upper management.

Bishop said he’s been active in the community for more than 25 years and cares about resident concerns.

But he said the plant is not in violation of the law.

Bishop said the plant was built in 1911 and contains boilers that date back to the 1950s. It was grandfathered under older standards with the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, meaning it does not have to adhere to the same restrictions as a modern plant because it was built before the act.

Justin Eibenholzl, an environmental coordinator for southeast Minneapolis, said the plant should have to meet more current and stringent air quality requirements.

He said the smog from the plant drifts downwind to the Como neighborhood and all of southeast Minneapolis. Eibenholzl said he thinks the smog has played a role in the rising number of people developing asthma and bronchitis in the area.

Frederik Bethke, a six-year Como resident, said a conversion from coal to natural gas is the best way for the plant to go.

“What we would prefer them to do is switch over to gas to reduce mercury emissions,” he said.

Bethke said he is especially concerned about the amount of pollution the plant spews out because it is located in such a densely populated area.

Eibenholzl agreed with Bethke and said because the plant’s permit is only up for renewal every five years, it is important concerned citizens get involved in the comment process to find out what they are breathing.

Eibenholzl said more people involved in speaking out against pollution will increase the chances the MPCA will take community concerns seriously.

He said in addition to environmental organizations, approximately 10 neighborhood associations, including those in the Como and Marcy-Holmes area, have written to the MPCA to oppose the renewal of the emissions license.

Eibenholzl said he wants Xcel Energy to explore power conversion, suggesting it switch from coal to natural gas, which he said is safer for the plant’s neighbors.

“I want them to reduce their air pollutants – how they do it, I don’t care,” he said.

Robyn Repya welcomes comments at [email protected]