Archived Story

State OKs power plant plan

Published 10:53am Friday, February 1, 2013

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Thursday approved the recommendation by Otter Tail Power to retire its Hoot Lake coal plant by 2020.

In October, Otter Tail Power Company officials recommended the idea of closing the plant in 2020.

“The Public Utilities Commission approved an Otter Tail Power recommendation that the utility company install pollution control equipment to comply with mercury and air toxic standards by 2015, and make plans to retire the plant in 2020,” said Cris Oehler, director, public relations for Otter Tail Power. “(The decision) wasn’t a surprise. It was based on our recommendation.”

OTP organized a collaboration of PUCs in Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the office of the Minnesota Attorney General in crafting the recommendation.

The announcement comes just one day after Minnesota Power, the state’s second-largest utility company, announced plans to phase out burning coal at two of their facilities.

Otter Tail Power has been burning coal at the Hoot Lake power plant for more than 50 years. Soot and smog pollution emitted from coal plants can cause an increased number of asthma attacks, higher risk of lung disease and even premature death.

“Today’s decision is another step in the right direction as Minnesota continues a transition beyond coal,” said Jessica Tatro, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizing Representative. “Between 2000 and 2010,

Minnesota reduced its use of dirty coal by 11 percent, yet we still get less than 10 percent of our electricity from wind and solar and over half from coal.”

In today’s meeting, the PUC also ordered Otter Tail Power to consider stronger energy efficiency and expanded renewable energy in their future integrated resource planning process. Otter Tail Power is

uniquely positioned to economically capitalize on wind energy potential, which creates nearly double the jobs per million dollars invested than fossil fuels, and energy efficiency.

Otter Tail Power is fourth in nation for percentage for retail load, Oehler said. All wind resources are economic, though they are in North Dakota. OTP is considered a leader in wind resources, she added.

“Minnesotans spend $20 billion every year to buy energy from out-of-state sources,” said J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director at Fresh Energy. “Phasing out dirty coal plants like Hoot Lake gives

Minnesota the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation by investing in more solar and wind power, creating thousands of Minnesotan jobs, cleaning our air and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Though enviromental groups agreed the decision takes a step in the right direction, they have urged OTP to consider the retirement of the Hoot Lake Plant sooner than 2020.

“Mercury emitted from the Hoot Lake coal plant affects our water in western Minnesota,” said Duane Ninneman, Renewable Energy Program Director of Clean Up the River Environment (CURE). “Today’s decision will lower the risk of mercury contamination in our waterways. Phasing out coal vastly improves the health of the surrounding community and helps us keep our water clean. Every day that pollution comes from the Hoot Lake plant, our health is put at risk.”

Other clean energy allies echoed the same concerns about Hoot Lake’s retirement timeline.

“This is a major victory for health in western Minnesota, but why throw good money at continuing to burn coal for another eight years?” said Beth Goodpaster, Clean Energy Program Director with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

However, the Hoot Lake plant supplies 20 percent of the energy to its customers, Oehler said.

“We have to replace the energy,” she said. “We would have to buy on the market or build a replacement. We had to look at what makes the most sense.”

Additionally, the plant employs 44 people, and Otter Tail Railroad provides the coal delivery.

“There is community impact to the eventual retirement of that plant,” Oehler said, “And this plan allows for that transition.”

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