Minnesota PUC won’t subject Boswell 4 retrofit to extra review

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued a June 27 finding that Minnesota Power’s plan to install new mercury controls on the coal-fired Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 doesn’t trigger a discretionary environmental review process.

In August 2012, Minnesota Power filed a mercury emission reduction plan for its Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 under the Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act (MERA). The company proposed to retrofit Boswell Unit 4 to reduce multiple pollutants, and to comply with MERA as well as other federal law.

On March 1, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued its environmental assessment of the company’s proposed mercury emissions reduction plan.

On April 24, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) filed a citizen’s petition under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, with the Environmental Quality Board (EQB). The petition requested the completion of an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) prior to the commission taking action on the Boswell Unit 4 retrofit project. On May 1, the EQB determined that the commission is the appropriate governmental unit to decide the need for an EAW.

Minnesota Power urged the commission to deny the petition, arguing that the provisions of MERA already provide adequate environmental review of the proposed project, establishing the parameters of when and how this review is to occur.

“Having thoroughly reviewed the record and having heard and considered the comments and arguments of the parties, the Commission finds that MCEA’s petition fails to demonstrate that the BEC4 retrofit project may have the potential for significant environmental effects that are negative, or adverse, in their impact,” the June 27 decision said. “Any comparison between BEC4’s current emissions and its projected emissions after the proposed retrofit would disclose no negative environmental consequences. To the contrary, the comparison would reveal substantial environmental benefits – 90% reduction in mercury emissions as well as significant reductions in other environmental pollutants such as nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and greenhouse gases. On its face, then, the project would have no meaningful potential for the significant environmental effects that would create a need for an EAW.”

The commission had on June 6 issued a verbal approval of the BEC4 project, prompting Minnesota Power, a division of ALLETE (NYSE: ALE), to say it plans to begin construction this summer on these controls, pending receipt of an approved air permit from Minnesota regulators.

Boswell Unit 4, which is capable of producing 585 MW (net), has been meeting the region’s energy needs since the 1980s. The Boswell Unit 4 project is described as a “multi-pollutant control” project, since it includes installation of a semi-dry flue gas desulfurization (FGD) system, a fabric filter, and a powdered activated carbon injection system.

“We appreciate the Commission’s decision which allows us to progress on this important project without an unjustified and costly delay,” said Margaret Hodnik, VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for Minnesota Power, in a June 6 statement. “A retrofitted Boswell 4 is a critical part of our Energy Forward strategy to balance our resource portfolio and further improve environmental performance while meeting our customers’ expectations for affordable and reliable energy.”

Minnesota Power’s long-term goal under its Energy Forward strategy is a generation mix that is one-third renewable, one-third natural gas and one-third coal-based. The Boswell 4 project, combined with $355m in other emission reduction investments the company has made since 2006, will result in system-wide emission reductions of 70% by 2016.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.