Minnesota looks at whether to reopen Boswell coal project approval

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at its Jan. 16 meeting will be look at whether to reconsider its November 2013 approval for Minnesota Power of new air emissions controls for the coal-fired Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 (BEC4).

The commission staff on Jan. 7 filed a briefing memo with the commission that lays out the issues at hand. The project will bring the 585-MW Boswell Unit 4 into compliance with state and federal regulations. WPPI Energy owns 20% of Boswell 4 and will pay a share of the upgrade cost. Minnesota Power has already broken ground on the project.

In August 2012, Minnesota Power (MP) filed a mercury emission reduction plan for BEC4 under the Minnesota Mercury Emission Reduction Act (MERA). MP proposed to retrofit BEC4 to reduce multiple pollutants, and to comply with MERA and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The commission approved those projects, with the final approval order issued on Nov. 5, 2013.

The environmental groups, including the Izaak Walton League, that now want reconsideration of that approval have as their primary argument that the commission did not have an adequate record concerning the natural gas replacement options for the BEC4 that Minnesota Power considered. They specifically stated that the approval order depends upon a legally deficient report prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The environmental groups contend that MPCA failed to consider “the environmental and public health benefits” and “the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness” of any of the natural gas alternatives proposed or considered in the MP petition.

The environmental groups also argued that there would be substantially greater pollution reductions from a natural gas alternative to the BEC4 retrofit. They provided new information in the form of an analysis by a consultant, Dr. Ranajit Sahu. His analysis demonstrated that the quantified benefits to society would range from $25m to $78m per year for PM, SO2, and mercury. For CO2, over the period of 2016 to 2040, a natural gas alternative would result in cumulative avoided costs of $6bn.

The environmental groups want the commission to vacate the Nov. 5 order and stay this proceeding pending completion by the MPCA of a new report.

Minnesota Power argued in reply that the commission’s consideration of two natural gas replacement options for Boswell Unit 4 was in accordance with the general evaluation under the Integrated Resource Plan statute, including general considerations under the Mercury Act and other environmental statutes, as well as the overall impact on Minnesota Power’s ratepayers. To allow a full discussion on Boswell 4, the commission also considered Minnesota Power’s 2013 Integrated Resource Plan at the same agenda hearing. The utility said the commission’s evaluation of the mercury reduction plan for Boswell Unit 4 was not limited to the MPCA’s technical feasibility of emission reduction technologies, but included Minnesota Power’s resource planning sensitivity analysis and findings “that the proposed retrofit tended to cost less than the replacement options under a variety of future conditions.”

A group of Minnesota Power large industrial power customers said the environmental groups have raised no new issues or legal arguments and that their reconsideration request should be rejected.

Commission staff said it agrees that the environmental groups have not raised any new issues or legal arguments requiring further consideration. It said a key question is whether to review the new Sahu testimony and whether that new information would alter the commission’s Nov. 5 decision.

Sahu said in his testimony: “It is without question that the natural gas combined cycle plant of the size of BEC4 (i.e., in the range of 400 to 500 MW) is technically feasible. Nor is there any question that such a replacement would be environmentally beneficial, since natural gas emissions would be far smaller than emissions from BEC4.”

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.