Press Release: MN Power should cancel NTEC, plan for earlier retirement of coal plants
Sarah Horner, MCEA, firstname.lastname@example.org, 612-868-3024
Jo Olson, Fresh Energy, email@example.com
Renner Barsella, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Welf, Clean Grid Alliance, email@example.com
SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA – Independent experts dug into the data Minnesota Power presented to support its latest long-term energy plan and found that the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, a proposed $700 million fossil fuel gas plant, is both unnecessary and harmful to efforts to curb the climate crisis.
Rather than wasting ratepayer dollars to build new fossil fuel infrastructure, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, Fresh Energy and Clean Grid Alliance – collectively the Clean Energy Organizations (CEOs) – found MN Power could actually spend slightly less money and still reliably meet future energy needs by increasing its investment in wind, solar and battery storage.
Investments in renewable resources are less financially risky for ratepayers than fossil fuel-burning plants and prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from harming people’s health and the climate for decades to come.
“The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has the legal authority and the fiscal responsibility to assess in this docket the prudence of Minnesota Power’s continuing quest to develop the Nemadji Trail Energy Center,” said Evan Mulholland, attorney with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Our analysis of a clean energy expansion plan shows that NTEC should not be built, and that Minnesota Power should be barred from spending any more money on such a risky project.”
“Minnesota Power has the opportunity to do right by the residents of West Duluth and the Fond du Lac Band by closing its Hibbard biomass power plant as soon as possible,” said Jenna Yeakle, organizer with the Sierra Club in Duluth. “The air pollution from Hibbard overburdens low-income communities, native communities and communities of color. Closing Hibbard is one step Minnesota Power can take in beginning to address the environmental injustices the company has caused.”
“We are excited to put forward a plan that can reliably and affordably put Minnesota Power on a path to decarbonization at the pace and scale of the climate crisis, by avoiding new fossil fuels and investing in renewables and storage," said Fresh Energy's Allen Gleckner. "We're looking forward to working with the Commission and Minnesota Power on what's next for Minnesota's second largest utility."
“This IRP is the perfect opportunity to further invest in wind, solar, and battery storage. We applaud Minnesota Power’s continued effort to transition away from fossil fuels and establish a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Peder Mewis, Regional Policy Manger with Clean Grid Alliance. “We look forward to finding a plan that puts Minnesota Power on a path to achieving a carbon free future while ensuring reliability and low costs for consumers.”
In developing their clean energy expansion plan, CEOs used the same modeling tool as Minnesota Power. CEOs’ alternative plan and detailed findings are contained in their comment filed Friday - April 29 - with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the Minnesota Power Integrated Resource Plan docket. Investor-owned public utilities in Minnesota are required by law to submit plans every two years that outline how they aim to meet their energy demands for the next 15 years.
In their comment, CEOs established that the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC) is not needed to meet future energy demands. In addition, CEOs underscored the recklessness of building a new fossil fuel plant with an estimated life-span of 40 years when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report makes clear the global community must cut greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030 to be on track to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Because it would burn enormous volumes of fossil gas, Minnesota Power’s proposed NTEC is projected to emit 2.24 million tons of CO2 a year - the equivalent of driving 483,000 gasoline-powered vehicles every year – placing the project in direct opposition to the demands of climate science.
New research presented by CEOs estimates the plant’s real climate impact will more than double when nitrous oxide and upstream methane emissions associated with gas production, processing and transmission are taken into account.
NTEC is also out of alignment with climate goals outlined by President Biden and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, both of whom recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and the leading role the power sector must play in decarbonizing our economy.
While Minnesota Power has made commendable strides toward reducing its reliance on coal in the past, CEOs call on the utility company to go further and retire its Hibbard coal and biomass plant as soon as possible, and to take steps now to maintain the option of fully retiring Boswell by 2030. Numerous national studies indicate that US coal plants need to be retired by 2030 to meet our climate goals.
Air pollution caused by the plants is also harmful to Minnesotans’ health.
In a first of its kind health impact study commissioned for an IRP process in Minnesota, CEOs found that the Hibbard plant causes particularly costly health impacts from the harmful array of pollution it emits in the Duluth-area, an urban center.
The study found that just last year Hibbard caused roughly 6 deaths and $70 million in health impacts, most of which were respiratory in nature due to exposure to fine particulate matter. The neighborhood nearest Hibbard is also disproportionately low-income.
If allowed to continue operating until 2035, as Minnesota Power currently proposes, Hibbard is projected to cause another roughly 40 deaths and $437 million in health impacts.
The study, conducted by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, found similarly alarming trends linked to Minnesota Power’s Boswell and other coal plants, and underscores the serious, long-lasting and disproportionate health effects that come from burning fossil fuel to power our homes and lives.
CEOs urge the PUC to make health impact studies a routine practice in the fulfillment of its duty to protect the public interest during the IRP process. While the concept is novel in Minnesota, other states have already implemented the practice. Minnesota should do the same.
For all the reasons cited above, CEOs are asking the Commission to cancel NTEC, order a buildout of wind and solar generation backed by battery storage, order the immediate retirement of Hibbard, and require Minnesota Power to start planning for early retirement for all of the Boswell coal units.
Please direct any questions about CEOs comment or the health equity study to the contacts listed at the top of this release.