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Minnesota Power files clean energy plan

Minnesota Power officially filed its "road map to a cleaner energy future" Friday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The long-expected plan further details the power company's goal to mix in more renewable resources in generating pow...

Minnesota Power officially filed its "road map to a cleaner energy future" Friday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The long-expected plan further details the power company's goal to mix in more renewable resources in generating power for its customers. Company spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said the plan, which it previewed in January, has a new twist: the use of more wind. That's because of an extension on production tax credits, making its use an affordable option.

"It makes sense to look at this harder," Rutledge said.

On Monday, she said, the company will put out a request to wind energy providers for 200 megawatts of power. The company also gets wind power from its own farms in North Dakota.

Minnesota Power relied on coal-fired plants for 95 percent of its energy in 2005, Rutledge said. Last year, 20 percent of its power came from renewable sources. Rutledge said the company will continue to explore more use of wind and hydroelectric sources.

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The plan also confirms plans to convert its Hoyt Lakes plant to natural gas by 2015 and to retire one of three coal units at Taconite Harbor on the North Shore. The company expects no loss in jobs through the transitions.

Minnesota Power stated that costs will go up as power companies transition to cleaner energy. It said the plan released Friday will provide the "lowest-cost path to serve our customers."

The company says it currently has the lowest utility rate in Minnesota and it is the fourth-lowest in the nation.

The plan is posted on the company Web site and the public will be able to comment on it through the Public Utilities Commission.

Such reports are required every two or three years. The utilities commission is expected to make a final decision on the plan by the end of the year.

The end goal is to divide power generation in thirds, using coal, gas and renewables.

"It's a significant evolution," Rutledge said.

Jessica Tritsch of the Sierra Club, a close follower of energy companies that rely heavily on coal and the pollution problems it causes, agrees that Minnesota Power is on the right path.

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"We're glad to see a continued investment in wind energy," Tritsch said.

But she said she'd like to see more done on shutting down "aging coal plants" like those at the Boswell Energy Center in Cohassett. Minnesota Power is investing in technology to reduce emissions there.

Tritsch said bringing coal plants up to state and federally regulated emissions standards isn't cost-effective for customers.

She'd also like to see more interest in solar energy.

"Minnesota Power heard from customers," Tritsch said of the greatest influence on the changes. "They wanted to see a shift."

Customers have a significant role in determining a power company's direction, said J. Drake Hamilton, the science policy director for Fresh Energy, an advocate for increased use of renewable energy.

"Customers must push them to maximize efficiency and energy savings now," Hamilton said.

And customers can play their own part, Hamilton said. "Increasing efficiency in our businesses and homes allows us to avoid reliance on imported, dirty coal."

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