Minnesota power company plan draws concern from citizens

The plan, submitted to a state agency, calls for a reduction of coal use.

by Kristina Busch

A plan proposed by Duluth-based company Minnesota Power, which aims to cut usage of coal-based energy by 42 percent by 2020, is drawing concern from some who say the plan doesn’t put enough focus on renewable energy.
Minnesota Power submits a Northland energy plan every two to three years to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for comments and approval, said Julie Pierce, Minnesota Power’s manager of resource planning. She said all utility companies in the state submit similar plans. 
Some citizens who believe solar and wind energy are the most important steps in energy conservation say the company’s plan doesn’t invest enough in greener energy forms. 
“I will give Minnesota Power credit; they have invested in wind and solar energy and worked with customers to become more energy efficient,” said Jessica Tritsch, senior organizing representative of the Sierra Club, an environmental conservation group. “But we believe there is opportunity to push that a lot further.”
Last year, the company proposed a plan to work toward decreasing coal dependence while ramping up the use of renewable energy over the following 15 years. 
The plan says the company will idle its Taconite Harbor Energy Center later this year and stop all coal consumption at the plant by 2020. 
Minnesota Power estimates the plan will reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2025.
The plan also aims for a power supply made up of one-third renewable energy, one-third natural gas and one-third coal-based energy, said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power’s corporate communications manager.
“We believe that the best energy mix is a balanced energy mix with not too much renewable energy or coal,” she said. 
According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 44 percent of Minnesota’s energy in 2015 was generated by coal — down from 52 percent in 2010. In the state, 21 percent of energy was generated by renewable energy, up from 14 percent in 2010. 
When Minnesota Power submitted its plan to MPUC, more than 1,500 citizens said in comments that they wanted the company to do to more to become energy efficient. 
Tritsch said the company’s goal to use two-thirds of the fossil fuels isn’t ambitious enough. The main goal should be to maximize wind and solar energy and overall energy conservation, she said.
A 2013 Peak Campaigns poll also found that a majority of people in Minnesota Power’s service area wanted energy companies to invest in more solar and wind energy. 
Still, Tritsch said the company has made progress over the last years. 
Over the past seven years, Minnesota Power has installed more than 600 megawatts of wind generation, and its plan will provide an additional 33 megawatts of solar power, Pierce said. 
“We not only need to balance the environment, but we have to look at things like reliability and affordability,” Pierce said. “Renewable energy generation, right now, cannot be relied upon 100 percent of the time.”