Minnesota Power to retire Boswell 1 and 2 coal units in 2018

Minnesota Power announced Oct. 19 that it it will retire two small coal-fired generators at its Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset, Minn., by the end of 2018.

This is the latest step in the company’s “EnergyForward” plan to meet customer electric-service needs in a balanced, reliable and cost-effective way. Company officials were at Boswell the morning of Oct. 19 to make the announcement to employees.

Boswell Energy Center is Minnesota Power’s largest thermal generating facility and consists of four units. The company will retire Boswell Units 1 and 2, but continue to operate Units 3 and 4, its largest generators. Together, Units 3 and 4 are capable of generating nearly 1,000 MW. Units 1 and 2 are each capable of producing 65 MW.

“The decision to retire units 1 and 2 at Boswell, though difficult for our employees and host communities, is consistent with Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward strategy of diversifying its energy mix, reducing its carbon footprint and evolving away from smaller, older coal generators,” said ALLETE Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Alan R. Hodnik. Minnesota Power is an operating division of ALLETE (NYSE: ALE). “Multimillion dollar investments in emissions reductions and new turbine rotors at Boswell Units 3 and 4 in recent years have made them among the cleanest-operating, most highly efficient electric generators in the nation. These large, state-of-the-art units, along with the company’s investments in renewable energy and access to low cost power markets, will ensure the continued availability of reliable and affordable electricity to meet the needs of all our customers, including those who compete in global markets.”

In its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Power had proposed making improvements to Units 1 and 2 and keeping them operational through 2024. But following months of analysis of projected customer needs and industry trends, company officials determined that retiring the two small coal units in 2018 was in the economic best interest of its customers. Minnesota Power will be evaluating the need for replacement power as part of its ongoing system planning activities.

Boswell Units 1 and 2 are the last of Minnesota Power’s small coal-fired units to be retired, idled or converted to natural gas. This fleet transition already has resulted in the removal of 335 MW of coal-fired capacity from its generation system.

  • At Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder, Minn., one 75-MW unit was retired in 2015 and the remaining two 75-MW units were economically idled in September, leaving them available to be called back into service if needed to maintain power grid reliability until coal operations cease there in 2020.
  • The 110-MW Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes, Minn., was converted to natural gas from coal in 2015.

Boswell Unit 3, at 355 MW, and Unit 4, at 585 MW, are the backbone of Minnesota Power’s system. Investments in state-of-the-art technology have improved efficiencies and reduced emissions of mercury by 90%, and SO2 and NOx by 80% at the two units.

Minnesota Power said it is already meeting or exceeding state standards for renewable power, energy conservation and carbon emission reduction. The company has achieved a 25% renewable energy mix, well ahead of Minnesota’s renewable energy goal of 25% by 2025. Minnesota Power expects to reduce carbon emissions on its system by about 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels.

Boswell 1 and 2 were dedicated in 1960. Plans to further expand the facility to meet the needs of a booming mining industry in the region were announced in 1968 and Unit 3 was dedicated in 1973. The last and largest generator at Boswell, Unit 4, was dedicated in 1980.

In an order dated July 18, the Minnesota PUC approved Minnesota Power’s 2015 IRP with modifications. The order accepted Minnesota Power’s plans for Taconite Harbor, directed Minnesota Power to retire Boswell Units 1 and 2 no later than 2022, required an analysis of generation and demand response alternatives to be filed with a natural gas resource proposal and required Minnesota Power to conduct requests for proposals for additional wind, solar and demand response resource additions subject to further MPUC approvals. Minnesota Power’s next IRP must be filed by Feb. 1, 2018.

Minnesota Power provides electric service within a 26,000-square-mile area in northeastern Minnesota, serving 145,000 customers, 16 municipalities and some of the largest industrial customers in the United States.

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.