Conservation Minnesota

Minnesota’s Biggest Smoker Kicks the Habit

I was born in the very heart of West Virginia’s coal mining country. Many nights I was rocked to sleep by the sound of loaded trains on the tracks behind our house along the Big Coal River. The coal industry played an integral part in my formative years as my father, a local minister, worked to stem the pollution and associated health issues that affected the people in his parish.

The links between burning coal and human health are as inescapable today as they were in my childhood. The American Lung Association has linked increased carbon pollution to elevated rates of asthma and heart disease nationwide. And the increased mercury pollution that is also created has been linked to birth defects as well as harmful impacts on plants and animals. Mercury pollution is the driving force behind fish consumption warnings that limit how much fish we can eat from local lakes and streams.

That’s why all Minnesotans should applaud Xcel Energy’s announcement that it will be transitioning its Sherco 1 & 2 plants in Becker from coal to natural gas fired operations. In addition, this retirement calls for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy, including a new 50 megawatt solar installation at the site of the Sherco plant in Becker. These plants combine to make up the state’s largest coal-burning power plant. Together, Minnesota’s coal-fired power plants produce one third of all of Minnesota’s carbon pollution.

This week, 11,000 petitions were delivered to the Public Utilities Commission asking that Xcel Energy’s 2015 Resource Plan include a total phase out of the Sherco plants.

Xcel Energy has listened, and their commitment to moving away from the old, dirty ways of the past into cleaner, greener alternatives that are becoming cheaper by the day is evident.

But in a last ditch effort to maintain the status quo, our neighbors to the northwest, are attempting to lure us back with claims that coal remains the safest and most inexpensive option for energy production.  They want to make sure the dirty energy they produce in North Dakota and sell to Minnesotans isn’t replaced by renewables that are now both cheaper and cleaner.   

Whether it’s our families, our waters or our personal health, in Minnesota, we have a belief in protecting what we love.

Xcel has embraced this ideal, and they deserve our support as they continue to look for opportunities to break our dependence on coal, support homegrown energy jobs and move toward a healthier energy future. Many thanks to everyone at Xcel Energy who worked on this plan to help Minnesota’s biggest smoker kick the habit.

About Paul Austin

Paul Austin
Paul Austin has 23 years of public service as an elected leader, advocate and political strategist, Paul Austin brings a rare combination of skills and experience to his position as Executive Director. At age 25, Paul was elected Mayor of Clinton, Connecticut – the youngest in state history. Paul has served as Executive Director of Conservation Minnesota since 2004.
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