Minnesota utility says it wants to get off coal after the winter of 2020-2021

District Energy St. Paul, a non-profit utility in Minnesota, said Oct. 28 that it has begun plans to end its use of coal after the 2020-21 heating season.

“The State of Minnesota is already a national leader in renewable energy and energy infrastructure, leveraging significant local resources such as wind and biomass to displace fossil fuels and maintain a diversified energy system,” said Bill Grant, Deputy Commissioner of Energy and Telecommunications for the Minnesota Department of Commerce. “Looking forward, district energy, combined heat and power, and flexible energy infrastructure will be key to how we meet energy demands most efficiently and effectively.”

District Energy’s fuel transition is not mandated, but driven by efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase system resilience, and deliver a value proposition that is in line with customer demands. The transition is now possible because of changes in fuel and finance markets and the availability of alternative resources to help meet the critical heating demands of a Minnesota winter.

“It is now time to phase out these assets and use this opportunity to modernize and diversify energy sources,” said Ken Smith, CEO and President of District Energy St. Paul. “Cities are the largest contributor to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. It is our responsibility as a community energy system to find innovative solutions that lessen our impact, improve local resilience, and help create a city prepared for the future. The elimination of coal is an important step in the evolution of our business, and we are already looking ahead to our next opportunity to save energy and reduce climate impacts.”

“In the face of a changing climate, the City of Saint Paul relies on its service partners to continue improving their environmental performance and deliver the next great energy solutions that reduce our carbon footprint and make us more resilient to changes in our environment and our economy,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

The utility utilizes a flexible fuel approach, which has protected service reliability and buffered customers from volatile fuel markets. The utility has worked on a continuum to integrate efficient and renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. This started with a transition from steam to hot water in 1983 and more recently with the integration of waste heat from biomass-fired combined heat and power and North America’s largest solar hot water system. These efforts have already significantly reduced the utility’s coal use.

District Energy is planning for additional diversification to incorporate greater efficiencies, emerging technologies, and more renewable energy sources. Primary opportunities include incorporation of additional waste heat from the combined heat and power system and waste heat capture from local waste water (sewage) systems.

District Energy St. Paul currently heats nearly 200 buildings and 300 single-family homes and cools more than 100 buildings in downtown Saint Paul and adjacent areas. The customer base includes local and state government, arts, entertainment, hospitality, Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and landmark small businesses that thrive with the support of District Energy’s stable and reliable heating and cooling services.

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.