Sherco’s future is being called into question in light of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan (CPP), which targets U.S. coal plants as a way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and address global climate change.
Sherco is a three-unit plant that burns about 9 million tons of low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal annually. Its two oldest units were built in the mid-1970s and are most at risk of possible shutdown because of the CPP in the view of the plant’s critics.
Xcel disagreed and said in its latest integrated resource plan that it wants to keep running Sherco’s three units at least until 2030. The plant is needed to provide support for the electricity grid and to maintain service reliability, the utility said. The IRP is pending before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
In Minnesota, Xcel does business as Northern States Power.
The Sierra Club and other groups, including the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said Sherco units 1 and 2 should be retired in 2021 and 2024, respectively. There appears to be general consensus, at least for now, that Sherco’s largest unit, 860-megawatt unit 3, will continue operating at least through most of the next decade. Unit 3 is also the newest unit, going into commercial operation in 1987.
Becker officials said the community would be devastated if Sherco, the largest power plant in Minnesota, closed because the plant provides dozens of jobs and most of the property taxes for the local economy.
Republican State Rep. Pat Garofalo supports the plant. In late September, Garofalo, who chairs the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee in the Minnesota General Assembly, urged Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, to oppose the CPP.
“Democrats support a Bermuda Triangle of mindless energy policies,” Garofalo said. “They oppose pipelines, they oppose environmental-friendly mining on the Iron Range, and they support the Clean Power Plan, which is going to mean higher energy prices and crippling job losses for Minnesota.”
He added, “Becker is not the only community that would be devastated by the loss of a coal power plant. If Sherco and other coal plants close, we’re talking about the loss of millions in local property tax revenue and hundreds of jobs that support families across the state.”