Minnesota PUC approves Boswell coal retrofit in 3-2 vote

The StarTribune in Minnesota reported Sept. 25 that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 that day to approve Minnesota Power’s plan for an environmental retrofit of the coal-fired Boswell Unit 4.

The project will bring the 585-MW unit into compliance with state and federal regulations to reduce smokestack emissions of mercury, the utility said. WPPI Energy owns 20% of Boswell 4 and will pay a share of the upgrade cost.

“Am I wild about seeing a large-capacity coal plant continue to operate given the unknowns we face? No,” said PUC Chairwoman Beverly Jones Heydinger (as quoted in the article), who nonetheless voted to approve the project.

Two commissioners, Dennis O’Brien and Nancy Lange, wanted to delay the decision to further study refitting the plant to burn natural gas. But other commissioners said the company had made its case for staying with coal, the report said. A commission spokesman on Sept. 26 confirmed the 3-2 vote and that O’Brien had broached the idea of a coal-to-gas conversion, with Lange joining in.

Alstom said Aug. 29 that it has won a new contract to deliver an emission control system for Unit 4 at Boswell. Once installed on the 585-MW unit, Alstom’s NID semi-dry flue gas desulfurization system will cut mercury emissions by 90% and significantly curb emissions of SO2 and other pollutants.

The Boswell 4 NID installation is part of Minnesota Power’s $350m effort to make the unit fully-compliant with both state and federal regulations. This project also is a key component of the company’s Energy Forward strategy, also approved by the commision on Sept. 25, that includes further reducing emissions at its existing plants (mostly coal) and additional generation from renewables and natural gas, creating a diverse energy mix of one-third coal, one-third renewables and one-third natural gas.

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.