Re-evaluating the University’s energy sources

I am an environmental studies student here at the University of Minnesota and am writing in order to draw your attention to an up-and-coming hearing at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission about Xcel Energy’s long-term energy plan and proposed updates to Minnesota’s largest coal-fired power plant, Sherco.

The Sherco plant is far and away the dirtiest producer of electricity we have here in Minnesota. The plant is responsible for more than 400 pounds of mercury and more than 11,000 pounds of sulfuric acid emissions per year and, according to the Clean Air Task Force, causes a host of health issues for neighboring residents and even deaths. In fact, its haze is so bad some days that it can be seen as far north as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Constructed in the mid-1970s, Sherco has had issues as recently as last year when a large fire knocked out the No. 3 boiler. Currently Sherco is in need of updates on the two remaining boilers, a plan that is sure to cost millions of dollars that will inevitably get paid by its customers, one of those customers being our own University, which is Xcel’s third largest customers in the state.

We are not stuck buying energy produced in this archaic and risky manner, however. Minnesota has the potential to develop its solar industry further because at this point its potential remains largely unrealized. In Minnesota we are currently importing more than $20 billion of energy per year primarily coming from sources such as coal, whose investment dollars promptly leave our state and local economies. Solar energy, on the other hand, is both renewable and homegrown, meaning it has greater security, and its production cannot be outsourced. It does not have the same negative consequences as its competitors, coal and natural gas, and is a far cleaner method to produce energy no matter what way you spin it.

On Thursday, a meeting at the MNPUC will discuss Xcel’s long-term energy plans including the future of the Sherco plant. In turn, a massive component of Minnesota’s energy future is on the table for debate. Here we have an opportunity to bring to the forefront dialogue about new and different possibilities for the future of our energy production. Why perpetuate the practice of outdated and dangerous energy production methods when we could instead invest it in moving closer to a responsible energy future?

If you are interested in this issue and believe it is time that Minnesota kick start its renewable energy future, I encourage you to join the discussion by attending the hearing at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday at the MNPUC, 121 East Seventh Place, Suite 350, St. Paul, Minn.