Amid City pushback, plans for hydroelectric power near St. Anthony Main fall short

Xcel Energy terminated its contract with electric company Crown Hydro, ending a 20-year-long project.

The view where a Crown Hydro hydroelectric turbine would have been placed as seen on Sunday, Nov. 4 in Minneapolis. Xcel Energy terminated their contract with Crown Hydro, causing the planned turbine to be cancelled.

Jasmin Kemp

The view where a Crown Hydro hydroelectric turbine would have been placed as seen on Sunday, Nov. 4 in Minneapolis. Xcel Energy terminated their contract with Crown Hydro, causing the planned turbine to be cancelled.

Emma Dill

Efforts to build a hydroelectric turbine near St. Anthony Main hit a major roadblock late last month when its grant funding and contract were terminated, a move that was applauded by city leaders. 

Xcel Energy’s contract termination with Crown Hydro hydroelectric company puts an end to an endeavor that began more than 20 years ago. While the plan promised renewable energy, it received significant opposition from the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and local neighborhood groups. 

Local pushback and a lack of progress ultimately led to the project’s end. Over the years, Crown Hydro has struggled to find a location to attach the turbine that is needed to generate power, said Ward 3 City Council member Steve Fletcher. The company eventually decided on placing the turbine beside the dam at St. Anthony Falls. 

Fletcher said locals in his ward worried the project would take up park land, reduce water flow over the falls, speed up flow downstream and cause ground vibrations in the area.

Minneapolis Mayor and former Ward 3 City Council member Jacob Frey said water flow over the falls was a big concern for the City, noting the area’s popularity with visitors and residents. “If you need water to go through the turbine then the water’s not going over the falls,” he said.

Despite Crown Hydro’s potential impact on park land, MPRB has not yet seen any project disruptions. 

“We monitored it for the last 20 years … [but] we have not curtailed our work,” said Cliff Swenson, MPRB’s director of design and project management. 

Swenson pointed to projects like the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park and Water Works, a planned park near Stone Arch Bridge, as evidence of continued work that could have been impacted if the project was completed. Fletcher cited the turbine’s potential impact on park plans as a reason for ending the project. 

“There are huge plans up and down the river, which is why it’s important that we not let one private interest just totally change all of our plans,” Swenson said.

Crown Hydro’s chief financial officer Gary Monson refutes many arguments against the project, saying it would produce no vibrations and would not significantly impact the falls. 

“As far as the flow is concerned, the flow over the dam is more than adequate to serve all of the users, including those who want the aesthetic appearance of the falls,” Monson said.

The planned project would have generated 21 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, enough energy to power 2,000 to 2,500 homes, Monson said.

Despite the project termination, the City continues to work toward renewable energy goals. By 2022, the City aims to use 100 percent renewable energy and Minneapolis has plans to run fully on clean power by 2030. Most of that energy will come in the form of solar and wind power, Frey said.

“We’re well on our way. This was not one of the best ways to get there,” Frey said about the Crown Hydro project.

Crown Hydro will continue to work on installing a hydroelectric plant on the Mississippi River.

“[Xcel’s termination] does not kill the project. We’re moving forward,” said Monson. “The power has value and we’re confident that we’ll have a customer for that power.”