Minnesota Power begins Cohasset plant upgrade to reduce mercuryMinnesota Power today will celebrate the start of construction on a $350 million project to control mercury and other emissions at its giant Boswell 4 coal-burning power plant along the Mississippi River in Cohasset in Itasca County.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota Power today will celebrate the start of construction on a $350 million project to control mercury and other emissions at its giant Boswell 4 coal-burning power plant along the Mississippi River in Cohasset in Itasca County.
The project, approved by regulators this past summer, will bring the plant in line with the latest state and federal regulations to reduce mercury.
The project is expected to employ hundreds of construction workers over the next three years until completion in 2016, said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman.
The new technology will reduce by up to 90 percent the amount of mercury that is released when coal is burned. Mercury can become a toxin after falling into waterways, building up in fish and making them unsafe for humans and animals to eat.
The company said the Boswell 4 retrofit, coupled with other pollution-
control upgrades made since 2006, will combine by 2016 to cut their total air emissions by 70 percent.
But the upgrade will do nothing to curb the plant’s coal-fired carbon dioxide emissions, the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activity, which the Environmental Protection Agency blames, in part, for climate change. Ironically, several environmental groups had opposed the Boswell 4 upgrades, saying the old coal burner should be retired and the money instead spent on additional wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
Minnesota Power said that’s not a viable option, noting the cheap, constant supply of power from the coal-fired unit is exactly what’s needed to electrify the region’s energy-
gobbling taconite and paper plants that can’t wait for sunshine or wind to run.
The total Boswell 4 retrofit project will cost nearly $430 million, with the remainder of the cost paid by part-owner WPPI Energy in Wisconsin.
John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is scheduled to speak at today’s groundbreaking event.
The Boswell project is just one of many Minnesota Power has conducted in recent years to reduce pollution, including a three-year, $240 million project on the adjacent Boswell 3 coal burner finished in 2010. Over the next few years, the Duluth-based utility also has plans to convert part of its Hoyt Lakes coal-burning plant to natural gas, and to retire one unit at its Taconite Harbor coal burning facility. Minnesota Power also recently announced it would further expand its Bison wind energy farm in North Dakota and buy more hydro power from Manitoba.