In what can only be described as a win-win for the residents of Minnesota, Xcel Energy announced last week that it will curtail their use of coal at its Black Dog Power plant in Burnsville next spring.
Burning coal for power is linked to increased mercury in lakes, asthma, and heart disease. The decision to stop using coal for electricity generation at the plant will drastically reduce harmful emissions, while also protecting consumers from the increased costs that would have been required to add the necessary technology to allow it to continue burning coal.
Changes in federal law would have required the plant to reach a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by next April. By eliminating coal, the plant will experience a 100 percent reduction in mercury emissions.
The decision on Black Dog will continue the existing trajectory of coal usage in the state. From 2008 to 2012, coal energy production decreased from 58 to 44 percent of the state’s electricity portfolio. But even at 44 percent, Minnesota’s electricity producers still imported 12 million tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming, which puts Minnesota eighteenth in national rankings of net coal imports.
The state’s increase in natural gas as a form of energy production shows some short-term benefits in the form of air quality and cost. But for long term stability in cost and emissions, the keys will be increasing usage of renewable options, and increasing efficiency.
Minnesota is recognized as a national leader in the move toward renewable energy, and the decision by Xcel to be less dependent on coal is an important step forward.