Minnesota agrees to revise permit for Taconite Harbor coal plant

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has agreed to a timeline for revising the air pollution permit at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal-burning plant to meet health-based clean air protections established nearly five years ago.

The Sierra Club said April 6 said that this comes several months after dozens of faith, health, youth and environmental groups and leaders submitted a letter calling for the MPCA to hold Minnesota Power accountable by acting on the expired permits. The new agreement is the result of a settlement with Sierra Club, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Fresh Energy.

“I’m looking forward to the residents of the North Shore having some relief and cleaner air to breathe,” said Dr. Gordy Dodge of Schroeder, Minn. “Northeastern Minnesota deserves this small reprieve from harmful coal pollution, but we know there’s much more to do.”

The club released an April 1 letter from the MPCA to Minnesota Power asking for data about the power plant under this settlement.

Taconite Harbor has three coal-fired units: Unit 1 (76 MW net), Unit 2 (74 MW net) and Unit 3 (81 MW net).

Retirement of Taconite Harbor Unit 3 is imminent

Said Minnesota Power parent ALLETE Inc. (NYSE: ALE) in its Feb. 17 annual Form 10-K report about clean-air matters for several coal plants, including Taconite Harbor: “In August 2008, Minnesota Power received a Notice of Violation (NOV) from the EPA asserting violations of the [New Source Review] requirements of the Clean Air Act at Boswell Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 and Laskin Unit 2. The NOV asserted that seven projects undertaken at these coal-fired plants between the years 1981 and 2000 should have been reviewed under the NSR requirements and that Boswell Unit 4’s Title V permit was violated. In April 2011, Minnesota Power received a NOV alleging that two projects undertaken at Rapids Energy Center in 2004 and 2005 should have been reviewed under the NSR requirements and that the Rapids Energy Center’s Title V permit was violated.

“Minnesota Power reached a settlement with the EPA regarding these NOVs and entered into a Consent Decree which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Court) on September 29, 2014. The Consent Decree covers Minnesota Power’s Boswell, Laskin, Taconite Harbor, and Rapids Energy Centers. The Consent Decree provides for more stringent emissions limits at all affected units, the option of refueling, retrofits or retirements at some units, and the addition of 200 MW of wind energy. Minnesota Power is required to spend $4.2 million on environmental mitigation projects over the next five years. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, Minnesota Power also paid a $1.4 million civil penalty which was recognized as an expense in 2013. In 2014, the Company recorded an expense associated with the environmental mitigation projects.

“Since 2005, the Company has, and will, invest more than $600 million to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulate matters emissions at its thermal generation facilities, and between 2010 and 2014 placed in service nearly 500 MW of renewable wind energy, which fulfills certain obligations under the Consent Decree. In addition, Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward plan addresses many of the requirements included in the Consent Decree. Under the EnergyForward plan, Minnesota Power intends to: 1) retire Taconite Harbor Unit 3, 2) convert Laskin from coal to natural gas, and 3) install emission controls at Boswell Unit 4.

“The Consent Decree further requires that, by no later than December 31, 2018, Boswell Units 1 and 2 must be retired, refueled, repowered, or emissions rerouted to an existing Boswell scrubber. Minnesota Power estimates that if the units are not retired, capital expenditures could range between $20 million and $40 million. We are evaluating our options with regard to Boswell Units 1 and 2 to comply with the Consent Decree and future anticipated environmental regulations. We are required to notify the EPA no later than December 31, 2016, whether we will retire, refuel, repower or reroute Boswell Units 1 and 2.”

The Form 10-K added about compliance with EPA’s Regional Haze program: “Due to legal challenges at both the state and federal levels, there is currently no applicable compliance deadline for the Regional Haze Rule. As part of our 2013 Integrated Resource Plan, which was approved by the [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] in November 2013, we plan to retire Taconite Harbor Unit 3 in the second quarter of 2015. We believe that the Taconite Harbor Unit 3 retirement will be accomplished before any compliance deadline takes effect.”

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.