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.