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Minnesota Power plans for more renewable energy over next 15 years

The company reached an agreement with clean energy groups just before their plan goes in front of state regulators.

The Minnesota Power / Allete building in downtown Duluth at night.
The Minnesota Power / Allete building in downtown Duluth.
File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota Power is planning to add more renewable energy to its mix.

The Duluth-based utility company said it will add up to 700 megawatts of renewable energy — 400 megawatts of wind and 300 megawatts of solar. It’s a considerable increase over the 300 megawatts of solar and wind it proposed when it first announced its plan almost two years ago.

Minnesota Power announced its plans after reaching an agreement with clean energy organizations weighing in on its required integrated resource plan, which outlines the next 15 years of expected energy demands and sources. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting on Minnesota Power’s plan Thursday morning and is expected to vote on it Nov. 22, the company said in a news release Monday.

If approved, the plan would also require the company to implement energy storage “demonstration projects” between 100 and 500 megawatt hours.

The moves will help the company reach its goal of going coal-free by 2035 and carbon-free by 2050.

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In the release, Josh Skelton, Minnesota Power’s chief operating officer, said since the original plan was filed in February 2021, two federal laws aimed at lowering the cost of renewable energy have passed: the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company’s timeline to retire the coal-fired 335-megawatt Unit 3 at its Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset by 2030 and the 468-megawatt Unit 4 by 2035 remains the same under the agreement, according to the letter filed by the company with regulators Monday.

However, the next integrated resource plan will look at the possibility of retiring Unit 4 by 2030 as well, the letter said.

“Any evaluation of early retirement scenarios at Boswell will also include a comprehensive analysis of worker transition and socioeconomic impacts, including projected impacts on the local tax base for the city of Cohasset and Itasca County,” the letter said.

The next plan will also consider converting Boswell’s Unit 3 into a synchronous condenser after its coal use is retired. A synchronous condenser helps maintain consistent power to the grid and is considered vital as renewables are added.

The agreement also pushed additional consideration of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center natural-gas-fired power plant planned for Superior to future regulatory filings.

The clean energy organizations are the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Sierra Club and Clean Grid Alliance.

In letters to the PUC on Monday, those groups, and separately, the Citizens Utility Board, laid out where they agree with Minnesota Power, but also called on regulators to require the company to include more study on the effects of power generation on its surrounding communities.

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The clean energy organizations, for example, added that they want the company to open a new docket with the PUC to specifically study the “health and socioeconomic impacts including racial and income demographic analysis of who is experiencing these impacts” of Minnesota Power’s Hibbard Renewable Energy Center, which burns waste wood for energy in West Duluth, and any potential replacements.

The company, in its letter, looking at Hibbard and others, proposed a stakeholder report in the next integrated resource plan that would consider “impacts on host communities, economics, health, system reliability, the environment and customer costs.”

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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