Xcel settles lawsuit with enviro groups over Sherco air issues

Clean air advocates on May 15 announced an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Northern States Power unit of Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) to require the coal-fired Sherburne County plant (also known Sherco) in Minnesota to reduce its emissions.

But the Sierra Club said that even more reductions will be necessary to prevent ongoing degradation to the Midwest’s most pristine places, including Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks.

The club said the agreement will bring an end to a lawsuit brought by advocates, which include the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park Association, Fresh Energy and the club. To help mitigate air quality problems at Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks, which the National Park Service found were caused by pollution from Sherco, the settlement requires Sherco to comply with significantly reduced SO2 emission limits.

The settlement requires Northern States Power, by the end of 2015, to reduce SO2 emissions from two of the three Sherco units by approximately 10,000 tons annually, and will require further reductions of SO2 from the third unit by mid 2017. EPA has agreed to finalize the terms of the settlement through a federally enforceable implementation plan in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit.

“Minnesotans can celebrate this agreement as a smart decision that reduces harmful air pollution,” said Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “But Minnesotans also want to see a transition plan beyond coal that makes room for Minnesota wind, solar and efficiency.”

The groups said they filed the lawsuit in 2012 after years of EPA’s delay in taking the steps legally required to curtail the pollution created by the 35-year-old Sherco plant. In 2009, the National Park Service certified that the pollution from the Sherco coal plant significantly impairs visibility in Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks. As a result, EPA was required to verify the impairment and order the installation of the best available pollution controls at this coal plant. But three years after the certification, EPA had failed to act, the club said.

Frank Prager, Xcel Energy’s vice president of policy and federal affairs, said in a statement e-mailed to GenerationHub on May 19: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental organizations. The work we have already done to reduce emissions at our Sherco plant allowed us to work with stakeholders to meet even greater emission reductions and achieve positive environmental results in a cost-effective manner for our customers. We have invested – and continue to invest – in clean air strategies that protect the environment, improve the electricity system and provide value to our customers.”

Said the Xcel website about this three-unit, 2,222-MW plant: “Sherco reflects the company’s environmental leadership, with its modern and efficient air quality control systems. Unit 3 employs a dry scrubber system, which uses a mist of lime slurry in spray dryers to trap sulfur dioxide (SO2). Units 1 and 2 have wet scrubbers, which use an alkaline spray to capture sulfur dioxide and ash.”

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.