Public Utilities Commission Unanimously Approves Xcel’s 15-year energy plan


October 13, 2016

Media Contacts:

Ricky Junquera –, 617.599.7048
J. Drake Hamilton –, 651.366.7557
Leigh Currie –, 651.287.4873

Doubling the amount of wind and solar on their system; retiring 1500 MW of coal by retiring Sherco 1 and 2; likely 60% carbon reductions by 2030

Saint Paul, MN — Today, the Public Utilities Commission held its final hearing and unanimously approved with modifications Xcel Energy’s 15-year energy plan (Integrated Resource Plan). After two years of rigorous study, Xcel Energy proposed a Midwest-leading energy plan for the next 15 years – doubling the amount of wind and solar on its system and taking significant strides to reduce coal with the retiring of Sherco units 1 and 2 in the mid-2020s. Xcel’s proposed energy plan saw broad support from customers, including over 10,000 Minnesotans; cities of Becker, Red Wing, and Minneapolis; Sherburne County; clean energy organizations, and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. The PUC unanimously approved today:

  • Retirement of Sherco 2&1 in 2023 and 2026, respectively, and a process to identify approximately 750 MW of intermediate capacity replacement resources for 2026 that considers existing location and grid reliability needs;

  • Add at least 1000 MW of cost-effective wind resources by 2019;

  • Add at least 650 MW of solar by 2021 through community solar gardens or other cost-effective solar;

  • Save no less than 400 MW through demand response; consider technical and economic achievability of 1000 MW of demand response in the next resource plan;

  • Meet Minnesota’s goal of 1.5% annual energy savings through 2030 and investigate the cost effectiveness of acquiring additional energy savings through a competitive bidding process;

  • In next resource plan, describe possible scenarios for cost-effective and orderly retirement of its coal and nuclear fleet which is reaching the end of its life, including Sherco, King, Monticello and Prairie Island.

  • Xcel Energy’s next 15-year energy plan filing is due February 1, 2019.

In response, Sierra Club, Fresh Energy, MCEA, and Wind on the Wires released the following statements,

“The state approved the lowest-cost plan–affordable, reliable, low carbon–in approving Xcel’s proposal to replace coal with clean energy. All Xcel customers will benefit from this clean pathway forward,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy.

“Today’s decision is huge for our health and Minnesota’s clean air and water, climate and economy. It also answers the 10,000 Minnesotans who submitted comments in support of this responsible transition beyond coal to wind, solar, and more energy savings,” said Rose Thelen, a Sierra Club community leader, from Clearwater, MN. “Our goal moving forward will be to make sure there is a racially and economically just transition for impacted workers, communities, and others impacted by these announcements; ensuring no one is left behind as we move toward a 100% renewable energy system.”

“Getting this much coal out of our electricity system is going to be a great thing for Minnesotans. I’m extremely pleased with the PUC’s decision, because it recognizes the importance of moving off of coal as quickly as possible for our health, our climate, and our economy; and we can start planning right now for this major transition.” said Leigh Currie, Energy Program Director and Staff Attorney at MCEA, who represented clean energy interests at the Public Utilities Commission.

“The investments that Xcel is proposing in clean, renewable energy as a component of this resource plan are nation-leading,” said Wind on the Wires Executive Director Beth Soholt. “We are pleased to see the Commission recognize the benefits of  Xcel’s proposed near-term investments in wind, which we are confident will provide long-term benefits for their customers and drive new opportunities for the growing clean energy economy in greater Minnesota.”

Public Utilities Commission Protects Customers from Minnesota Power’s Aging Coal Plants

June 9, 2016

Media Contacts:
Jessica Tritsch, (612) 963-9642,

Public Utilities Commission Protects Customers from Minnesota Power’s Aging Coal Plants

Wind, solar and energy savings are better deal for customers

Saint Paul, MN — Today, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to approve Minnesota Power’s 15 year resource plan with additional coal retirements and investments in wind, solar and energy savings. This spring, over 1500 Minnesotans in Minnesota Power’s service territory weighed in on Minnesota Power’s 15-year energy plan by asking the PUC to retire coal at Taconite Harbor 1&2 and Boswell 1&2 and require more wind, solar, and energy savings from Minnesota Power.

The PUC approved Minnesota Power’s plan with modifications including:

  • Retiring Boswell 1&2 coal units no later than 2022;

  • Confirming Taconite Harbor 1&2 coal units economically idled in 2016 with annual reports on impact to ratepayers and cease coal operations by 2020;

  • Initiate competitive bidding for 100-300 MW of wind energy by the end of 2017;

  • Finding up to 100 MW of additional solar by 2022 is likely an economic resource for Minnesota Power;

  • Signifying energy efficiency as a resource – setting annual average savings goal at 76.5 GWh, proposing a demand response competitive bidding process this year, and investigating potential for energy efficiency competitive bidding process; and

  • Not presuming natural gas replacement for coal units and including a full analysis of replacement options in the next IRP; including renewables, energy efficiency, distributed generation and demand response.

Minnesota Power’s originally filed 15-year energy plan did not achieve the level of renewables increases or coal reductions that were in the best interest of Minnesota Power’s customers and in line with the company’s “Energy Forward” Plan. Clean energy organizations and large energy users agreed that Minnesota Power and the PUC should proceed with caution in requiring new natural gas plants. The PUC decision is based on economic analysis by the Department of Commerce that demonstrated that wind, solar and energy savings are better for customers than continued coal operation.

“This decision by the PUC sets Minnesota Power on a path to do much better. The reality is, fossil fuels are costly to our health and our well-being. We are hopeful that Minnesota Power will rise to the challenge and meet customers’ demand for more wind, solar and energy savings,” said Leigh Currie, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy attorney representing Sierra Club, Fresh Energy, and Wind on the Wires.

Minnesota Power filed its plan with no additional build out of wind energy, which is questionable because the federal tax incentives for wind and solar were renewed in December. Wind is beating out coal and natural gas as the cheapest way to generate electricity, yet unlike other utilities across the country, Minnesota Power was not taking advantage of an opportunity that would benefit them and their consumer base. The PUC ordered Minnesota Power to initiate a request for proposals of 100-300 MW of wind energy by 2017.

“Investing in wind, solar and energy efficiency is a win-win for Minnesota Power’s customers: locking in affordable energy costs and growing our clean energy economy,” said Jessica Tritsch, Senior Organizer for Sierra Club. “We also urge Minnesota Power to focus on providing equivalent jobs, including clean energy jobs, in those same areas where plants will be closing, while committing to economic development in the impacted communities.”

Minnesota Power proposed modest, but important steps forward with the phase out of coal at Taconite Harbor 1&2 by 2020 (and as early as this year) and Boswell 1&2 in the mid-2020s. Both coal plants have long-overdue air permits. Recent air modeling demonstrates that even with the company’s recent pollution upgrades, Taconite Harbor still might not be able to comply with clean air standards that are critical to protecting human health. The PUC found that Minnesota Power has not demonstrated at this time that the $30 million investment in additional pollution controls at Boswell 1&2 is reasonable.

“Today’s decision would put Minnesota Power in step with customers’ support for an energy system that takes advantage of pollution-free resources available today at low cost, that reduce risks to human health,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy.

“Changes within the energy industry have created tremendous opportunities for affordable and reliable clean energy.  As customers, we need to remind Minnesota Power and the PUC that we want a 100% clean energy system,” said James Hietala, Minnesota Power customer and Sierra Club volunteer.

Minnesota Power’s next 15 year plan is due on February 1, 2018.


Community Groups Praise Nation-Leading Minneapolis Complete Streets Policy

For Immediate Release
May 27, 2016

Ethan Fawley, 612-964-8902
Greta Alquist, 651-468-1126

Minneapolis, Minn.—Today, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously adopted a Complete Streets policy, which will support safer streets for everyone. The policy states: “Minneapolis is committed to rebalancing its transportation network by clearly prioritizing walking, taking transit, and biking over driving motorized vehicles, in a manner that provides for acceptable levels of service for all modes.”

“One thing we all have in common is that we are all pedestrians at some point,” said Greta Alquist, Chair of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “Even people who drive spend some of their time as pedestrians. The Complete Streets Policy makes it very clear that here in Minneapolis, we put the safety and comfort of pedestrians first.”

Minneapolis joins more than 30 other cities and counties in Minnesota and more than 700 around the country with Complete Streets policies.

“The Minneapolis Complete Streets policy is undoubtedly one of the best in the country and will improve the safety of streets and quality of life of residents for decades to come,” said Nick Mason, Chair of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The Minneapolis Complete Streets policy was developed by staff working closely with policy makers and stakeholders from diverse community interests, including walking, biking, freight, people with disabilities, businesses, schools, health, and MnDOT.

“The availability of accessible road design, walkability, transportation options, and supportive services are critical to supporting people as they age,” said Will Phillips of AARP Minnesota. “Minneapolis is on the leading edge of designing and maintaining communities to ensure they are active places where residents of all ages can participate fully. We commend the City Council for adopting the Complete Streets policy.”

Minneapolis has the 2nd most bicycle commuters of any large city in the country and is in the top 10 for walk commuters as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 60,000 Minneapolitans regularly walk, bike, or take transit to work while everyone relies on walking or rolling to get to their final destination. Biking and walking have seen the most rapid growth of any way to get around in Minneapolis. There were 170 percent more bicycle commuters in 2014 than in 2000, and 30 percent more walk commuters.

“Streets, sidewalks, and bikeways are a critical part of allowing people to live heart-healthy lives,” said Rachel Callanan of the American Heart Association. “Thank you to the City of Minneapolis for moving forward on Complete Streets to improve public health.”

While Minneapolis streets have been getting safer, there were still 7 people killed and 4,225 people injured in 11,118 reported crashes on Minneapolis streets in 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“It’s great that more and more people are walking, biking, and taking transit in Minneapolis,” added Andrew Coldwell, Sierra Club North Star Chapter Land Use and Transportation Committee Chair. “This Complete Streets policy is critical to supporting that continued growth in a safe and smart way.”

“Minneapolis has shown that investment in walking, biking, and transit improvements yield big returns,” said Ethan Fawley of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “We are elated to see Complete Streets clarify the City’s prioritization of walking, biking, and transit for the future of our great city.”


Judge Recommends Use of the Social Cost of Carbon

For Immediate Release

Leigh Currie, Energy Program Director, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

“Fossil fuel power plant pollution costs Minnesotans more than $2.1 billion annually in health and environmental impacts.”

St. Paul, MN (April 15, 2016) – A new report recommends using the federal “social cost of carbon” when estimating the health and economic impacts of carbon dioxide pollution in the State of Minnesota, with a couple of minor suggested amendments. The report was submitted to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by an administrative law judge earlier today.

Since 1997, Minnesota utilities appearing before the PUC have been required to include estimates of the impacts carbon dioxide pollution has on human health and the environment in their filings. The 1997 values were determined to be between $.30 per ton and $3.10 per ton of CO2 (in 1995 dollars) and has only been adjusted for inflation; the values are now set between $.44 per ton and $4.53 per ton (in 2014 dollars).

The ability to estimate the social cost of carbon has increased dramatically since 1997 – most recently when the federal government created an interagency working group in 2009 to research the best available science and estimate the social cost of carbon when evaluating the impact of federal regulations. The value they found is contingent on the year and discount rate applied. For 2016 the values range from $11 per ton to $57 per ton of CO2.

Several groups and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended that the PUC use the values generated by the interagency working group as its estimates of the social cost of carbon. The PUC subsequently held a contested case that wrapped up in September 2015, and the recommendation by the administrative law judge will be considered by the Public Utilities Commission at a later date.

Dr. Stephen Polasky, Regents Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota, was one of the expert testifiers whose reports cited harmful damages to Minnesotan’s health and environment. “Fossil fuel power plant pollution costs Minnesotans more than $2.1 billion annually in health and environmental impacts, including emergency room visits and medical bills.”

Using updated social cost of carbon values will give the PUC more information about the external damages inflicted on society by burning fossil fuels, and will help in its decisions about future investments in electricity generation in Minnesota.

The organizations supporting the Administrative Law Judge’s recommendation include Environmental Law & Policy Center, Fresh Energy, Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Public Health Association, Sierra Club, Solar Energy Industries Association, Twin Cities Medical Society, and Wind on the Wires.


Taconite Harbor Revised Air Permit: A Step Towards Cleaner Air


Monday, April 4, 2016


Ricky Junquera – 675-2392

Release Online

Permit will revise the long-overdue air pollution permit at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal-burning power plant

DULUTH, MN. — Minnesota Power has submitted a revised air permit to The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). This draft permit, on notice April 3rd, will revise the long-overdue air pollution permit at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal-burning power plant to meet health-based clean air protections established nearly six years ago. This comes a year after dozens of faith, health, youth, and environmental groups submitted a letter calling for the MPCA to hold Minnesota Power accountable by acting on the expired permits. For Taconite Harbor, the air pollution permit was more than a decade overdue, putting nearby Northern Minnesota communities, iconic public parks, and recreation areas at risk.

The permit will include limits to ensure compliance with the EPA’s one-hour national ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2). Modeling conducted by an expert for the Sierra Club demonstrated that emissions from Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant potentially cause violations of that health-based standard for dozens of miles around the plant, putting our health and environment at risk.

Sulfur dioxide causes respiratory illnesses and increased risk of hospital admissions or emergency room visits, especially among children, older adults and people with asthma. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, northeastern Minnesota has the highest rates per capita of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the state.

In response Jessica Tritsch with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Minnesota said:

“This is an important step forward for all Minnesota Power customers and the entire community that came out last year to ensure a process was in place to safeguard our health, and protect our parks and recreation areas.

“We are glad to see a draft permit, and will review it during the 30-day comment period. Minnesota Power’s decision to retire Taconite Harbor is an important move for clean air, but we are concerned about what impact its 4-year plan to economically idle the plant could have on our community’s health.”


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit

Minnesota Power 15 Year Plan Still Beholden to Dirty Coal

Ricky Junquera,, 617-599-7048

More than 1500 comments submitted to push an investment in renewable energy

DULUTH, MN– Today marked the close of comments on Minnesota Power’s proposed 15-year plan to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) outlining the Northlands’ energy future. Over 1500 Minnesotans submitted comments saying Minnesota Power was missing opportunities to protect our air, water, and invest in long term energy solution and asking them to require more wind, solar, and energy efficiency from Minnesota Power over the next 15 years.

Lucinda West, a freshman at University of Minnesota Duluth and task force leader of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group Duluth chapter, spent time this winter talking to her fellow students about the 15 year plan,  “Everyone was shocked when they heard that Minnesota Power wasn’t planning on adding any more wind power in the next 15 years. It is obvious to us that we need more clean energy and less fossil fuels to protect our future. The 15 year plan even says that the wind investments they have made were a good investment for their customers, Minnesota Power seems out of touch to not add more of this affordable energy for their customers.”

Minnesota Power announced plans to stop burning coal at one of their dirtiest plants,Taconite Harbor that sits on the shore of Lake Superior. Yet, even with that announcement, Minnesota Power still burns coal for 65% of the electricity they produce. It’s progress, but more should be done. In comparison, the Minnesota Department of Commerce released new data this week showing that statewide coal was 44% of the energy mix in 2015.

“All around the country we see great examples of utilities answering the call to shifting their energy production to renewable energy but not with Minnesota Power,” said James Hietala, a MN Power customer. “We need to see commitments that make a positive impact on our air and water quality to ensure that future generations can enjoy the northern Minnesota that we enjoy.”

For years, clean energy supporters in the Northland have been pressuring Minnesota Power to announce transition plans for their dirtiest coal plants. Minnesota Power is posing a threat to our water and air by continuing to burn coal. Clean energy solutions (like wind, solar, and energy efficiency) exist and are saving customers money. Minnesota Power should ramp up wind and solar energy.

The PUC will now look over all of the comments submitted but citizens, industry, and advocacy groups and determine if MN Power can continue with their current plan or if they should make some changes.


About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit

Sierra Club responds to release of PolyMet Final Environmental Impact Statement Certification


Sierra Club responds to release of PolyMet Final Environmental Impact Statement Certification

Contact: Margaret Levin, State Director, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, 612-259-2446,

Today the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced its determination of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet sulfide ore mine as “adequate.”

In response, Sierra Club State Director Margaret Levin issued the following statement:

“This determination is disappointing, given the enormous risks of PolyMet’s deeply flawed sulfide mine proposal and the many questions left unanswered by the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS failed to fully evaluate pollution risks and health impacts and shows that the project would pose an unacceptable threat to Lake Superior – degradation of surface water, groundwater, and wetlands, and harm to endangered and threatened wildlife.

“PolyMet’s plan – to pollute water for centuries, destroy thousands of acres of wetlands, and put the health of people downstream at risk – is not the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. The evidence is clear that the risks to Lake Superior and the region far outweigh the potential benefits.”

The Sierra Club North Star Chapter is the leading grassroots voice to preserve and protect Minnesota’s environment.