Legislation Aims to Rollback Utility Commission Authority in Historic Fashion

February 9, 2017

Justin Fay – justin.fay@sierraclub.org
Ricky Junquera – ricky.junquera@sierraclub.org

Fast-tracking Xcel Gas Plant; without consideration of public’s best interest.

Minneapolis, MN – Today, the Minnesota House passed, and Governor Dayton announced his intention to sign, legislation that exempts Xcel Energy from the long-standing authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to evaluate whether new power generation is in the public interest. Instead, this bill would give Xcel Energy sole discretion whether to build a new 786-Megawatt gas plant in Becker, Minnesota.The legislation will be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks before advancing to the Governor’s desk.

Sierra Club Minnesota issued the following statement in response:

“Legislation to exempt Xcel Energy’s proposed gas plant from standard consumer protection publicly undermines the authority of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Authorizing Xcel Energy to replace two retiring coal units with a $1 billion gas plant, while avoiding basic demonstrations that the plant is in the public interest, undoes long-standing precedent; replacing a balancing of interests with a process that gives a giant check to Xcel.

The mission of the Public Utilities Commission is ‘to protect and promote the public’s interest in safe, adequate and reliable utility services at fair, reasonable rates.’ Xcel Energy and state lawmakers are choosing to let shareholders benefit at the expense of ratepayers across the state.

Sierra Club, along with many other stakeholders, has participated extensively in PUC proceedings over the years and believes Minnesota’s Commission is a best-in-class example of a regulatory body that weighs diverse interests in search of the best outcome. State lawmakers have opened the door to bypass the PUC every time a company decides it would be more expedient to make a decision to build a new coal plant or a new nuclear plant in a corporate boardroom rather than in the public venue specifically designed for this work.

We stand ready to defend the Public Utilities Commission from further rollbacks to their authority to act on behalf of Minnesotans, and encourage state lawmakers and the Governor to do the same.”


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.7 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 www.sierraclub.org.

Sierra Club Praises Decision to Block Sulfide Mine, Protect Boundary Waters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, December 15, 2016

Contact: Margaret Levin, Margaret.levin@sierraclub.org

Minneapolis, MN—The Obama administration today denied renewal of two mineral leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, halting plans for sulfide mines that could pollute the waters of America’s most popular wilderness area following extensive public input.  Sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota, and would pollute rivers and groundwater for hundreds of years.

The administration also announced it is beginning a process to consider withdrawing federal mineral rights from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area watershed long term.

In response, Margaret Levin, State Director of Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter issued the following statement:

“The Obama administration has rightly recognized that toxic sulfide ore mining poses grave risks for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, America’s most-visited national wilderness.  Today’s decision brings a welcome reprieve for the Boundary Waters’ 1,000 pristine lakes and streams, and validates the voices of thousands who have asked that its waters be protected from this threat.

“The tremendous public opposition to these mines demonstrates the incredible connection that Minnesotans and people from all over the country feel with this place and the deep-rooted desire to see it protected, not just today but into the future. We applaud this significant step forward and will continue to fight for permanent protection of the Boundary Waters.”

Sierra Club Comments on Crown Mill Hydro Project

Honorable Kimberly D. Bose,
Secretary Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20426

VIA Electronic Filing

Re: Draft Environmental Assessment for Crown Hydro Docket No. P-11175-025

Dear Ms. Bose,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment (“EA”) for the Crown Hydro, LLC Crown Mill Hydroelectric Project (“Crown Hydro”).

We are writing on behalf of the 50,000 members and supporters of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. The Sierra Club objects to the efforts of Crown Hydro, LLP. (“Crown”) to acquire rights to use land in the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park (“Regional Park”) in Minneapolis to construct and operate a hydroelectric plant. The Sierra Club has long advocated for city planning that combines dense, sustainable, land use development with parks and open space, particularly development that is bicycle, pedestrian and transit friendly. Redevelopment of the Minneapolis central riverfront has proved an immensely successful example of exactly this type of development. The driving force behind its success is the riverfront park centered on Saint Anthony Falls.

The Sierra Club is a strong proponent of statutory environmental review. Rigorous environmental review is standard for this area in Minneapolis. It develops information that is essential for decision makers to consider when making decisions that impact our environment. After analyzing the EA for the Crown Hydro, we have the following serious concerns:

  • Licensing Crown Hydro is a major federal action that could have serious adverse effects on the landmark Saint Anthony Falls. This project has been an extremely controversial for decades and given this controversy, the issues surrounding Crown Hydro need to be given the scrutiny that a full EIS would afford. A full EIS would insure the community, the City of Minneapolis, and the Federal Government that all issues were given the highest level of review and alternatives considered before a decision on a license was made.
  • The EA fails to address the cumulative impact of all the hydro projects on the flow of water over the Falls. Crown Hydro is the tipping point project that has the capacity to dewater the Falls. The impacts from reduced flow on recreation, parklands and other social and economic aspects need to be studied and quantified.
  • The EA fails to understand the recreation issues surrounding the project, and if they are mentioned the EA fails to seriously analyze these issues.
  • Alternatives were not considered. Given the circumstances, the “No Action” option needs to be seriously considered.

The EA fails to adequately consider the impact on aesthetic flow of water appropriation by Crown on the vibrancy of this area. The EA states that any minimum flow requirements would not apply “during the winter months (November 15 through March 15) and during nighttime hours (dusk till dawn) in all months.” This area, however, is active all year round, with visitors enjoying views of the Falls during the day and night. Without the centerpiece of the regional park, Saint Anthony Falls, the future growth of this area may stall. In addition, the Falls encourages people to use bikes and their feet to travel rather than cars. The EA does not adequately consider the impact of removing or reducing this major attraction.

In addition to threatening the flow over the Falls, the physical presence of the Crown Hydro facility would have a significant negative impact on recreational resources. The EA fails to address how the structure would restrict access from Downtown, Water Works and the Stone Arch Bridge to the Lock and Dam building, thereby subverting key elements of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (“MPRB”) Master Plan calling for improved bicycle and pedestrian connections to the riverfront and a new visitor center at the Lock and Dam with spectacular views of the Falls. Friends of the Lock and Dam have put forward a proposal that could turn the Master Plan concept of a visitor center into a reality with a transformative design to repurpose the lock and dam into a visitor center. This bold vision would be precluded by the Crown Hydro project.

Trail connections around the Stone Arch Bridge on the west side of the river are identified as a Key Focus Area in a Major Gateway of the Regional Park in the Regional Park Master Plan (p. 7-9). The EA fails to adequately address this issue and ignores how the project will impede, frustrate or otherwise preclude year round 24/7 trail usage after construction of the project. Further, the project will preclude the use of the intake and outlet areas near the lock and dam as a kayak/canoe landing and portage location, another significant goal in the Regional Park Master Plan (p. 7-7).

The Crown Hydro project would be built on public land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which is subject to a perpetual easement held by the MPRB for park purposes, including bicycle and pedestrian facilities. MPRB has been a consistent project opponent and previously denied Crown access to Park property. Although no details are presented in the EA, this project appears to require access to public land used for park purposes.

The Sierra Club is a strong supporter of green and alternative energy. However, the energy that would be produced by Crown is very expensive compared to other green energy sources. The Federal Power Act requires equal consideration of power production, energy conservation, the protection of fish and wildlife, the protection of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.

To properly balance the small amount of expensive energy that would be generated against the major negative impacts on the central riverfront park and continued economic growth of this dense pedestrian, bike and transit friendly area, Sierra Club requests preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.


Mathews Hollinshead
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club North Star Chapter

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


October 13, 2016

Media Contacts:

Ricky Junquera – ricky.junquera@sierraclub.org, 617.599.7048
J. Drake Hamilton – hamilton@fresh-energy.org, 651.366.7557
Leigh Currie – lcurrie@mncenter.org, 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, jessica.tritsch@sierraclub.org

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.