Advocacy groups sue EPA over Xcel’s Sherco coal plant

Several environmental groups have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to enforce installation of new emission controls at Xcel Energy’s (NYSE: XEL) Sherco coal plant in Minnesota.

The suit was filed Dec.4 by National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park Association, Fresh Energy and Sierra Club. The litigation asks for an order requiring EPA to mandate the installation of best available retrofit technology (BART) at Sherco.

The suit was filed in federal district court in Minnesota and seeks to force installation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment to reduce NOx emissions.

Minnesota regulators recently directed Xcel subsidiary Northern States Power to file various resource assessments including either updating or closing Units 1-2 at the Sherburne County or “Sherco” coal units. Unit 3 at Sherco has also been experiencing an extended outage.

The pollution created by the 35-year-old Sherco plant is unhealthy for people and is a major contributor to the smog that obscures views in Minnesota’s parks, the organizations said in a news release.

The NPCA in 2009 certified that pollution from Sherco significantly impairs visibility in Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks, the groups said. The environmental groups said that EPA has still not acted to require new emission controls at Sherco.

While state regulators recently forwarded a haze clean-up plan to EPA for approval, that plan is deficient in numerous ways and does not require available controls for Sherco that would most effectively reduce the coal plant’s visible air pollution, the groups said.

Technologies that remove up to 90% of emissions are available and have been installed in similar plants elsewhere, but Xcel has not installed these technologies at Sherco, the litigants said.

“The EPA has had ample time to make the determinations we are asking them to make,” said Kevin Reuther, MCEA legal director.  “We hope this action will spur the EPA to force the Sherco facility to meet modern air quality standards and to stop compromising people’s health and the ecosystems of our national treasures.”

The Sherco complex includes a trio of coal units that have a combined generating capacity of 2,400 MW. The facility is located in Becker, Minn., about 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.