Enviro groups mount pressure to shut two Sherco coal units in Minnesota

More than 11,000 comments from Minnesotans throughout the service territory of Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) subsidiary Northern States Power were delivered on Oct. 1 to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission calling for a retirement plan regarding two units at the Sherburne County (Sherco) coal plant and maximizing wind, solar and energy savings in Xcel Energy’s 2015 Resource Plan.

The Sierra Club noted in an Oct. 1 statement that the commission was accepting comments until Oct. 2 on Xcel Energy’s Resource Plan, which was initially filed in January. Xcel Energy has made great strides in recent years transitioning to clean, renewable energy, but still operates the largest coal plant in Minnesota, the club said.

Notable is that there is a larger, cleaner Sherco Unit 3, with the focus of these protests on the older Units 1 and 2.

In July, environmental groups submitted a “Clean Energy Plan” alternative that would retire Sherco Units 1 and 2 in 2021 and 2024, respectively, for what they said was the same cost as Xcel Energy’s Preferred Plan. This comes after five years of study and consideration on the future of the Sherco units at the Minnesota commission.

In January of this year, Northern States Power filed its 2016-2030 Resource Plan with the Minnesota commission, proposing to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels through the significant addition of renewables, continued commitment to specific critical infrastructure protection annual achievements and the continued operation of its existing cost-effective thermal generation. Key points of the resource plan included:

  • Adding 600 MW of non-production tax credit wind by 2020 and an additional 1,200 MW by 2027, bringing total wind power on the NSP System to over 3,600 MW;
  • Adding 187 MW of large-scale solar energy by year-end 2016 and an additional 1,700 MW of large-scale solar and 500 MW of customer-driven small-scale solar, bringing total solar power on the NSP system to approximately 2,400 MW;
  • Operating the Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear plants through their current licenses; and
  • Continuing to run Sherco Units 1 and 2 with gradually decreasing reliance through 2030.

The 2,222-MW Sherco plant is located at Becker, Minn., 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, on the Mississippi River. The Sherco units are:

  • Unit 1 – 680 MW – commercial start in 1976;
  • Unit 2 – 682 MW – commercial start in 1977; and
  • Unit 3 – 860 MW – commercial start in 1987.

In the Resource Plan case, Xcel on Oct. 2 filed an update with the commission that said that due to factors like the EPA’s CO2-reducing Clean Power Plan, which came out in August in final form, and the need to add selective cataluytic reduction at Sherco Units 1 and 2 next decade for NOx complinance, it now has a new, suggested plan that includes:

  • Achieving 60% carbon emission reductions by 2030 (up from the prior 40%),
  • Ceasing coal generation at Sherco Unit 2 in 2023,
  • Ceasing coal generation at Sherco Unit 1 in 2026, and
  • Advancing the addition of substantial renewable generation (1,200 MW by 2020).

The revised plan includes possible conversion of one of Sherco Units 1 or 2 to natural gas, and building a new combined-cycle gas plant at the Sherco site.

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.