Minnesota Power to convert major Range plant from coal to gas

This week, Minnesota Power announced it would convert its coal-fired Laskin Energy Plant near Hoyt Lakes to natural gas generation in coming years. The $15 million conversion will eventually join the closure of one of Laskin’s MP’s Taconite Harbor units, but company officials are hopeful there will be no layoffs. The plan allows Minnesota Power to adopt cleaner technologies and is keeping with the company’s goals to include more natural gas in its long range energy production plans.

This is good news for the region, as there were fears MP would close Laskin altogether. The company has, in the last decade, also invested hundreds of millions in converting coal burners at the Clay Boswell plant in Cohasset to cleaner coal systems (UPDATE: They have done so with two units, and hope to convert two more). These are major electricity sources for the Iron Range mining industry and one of the area’s biggest employers.

I’m following a potentially complicated subplot. Minnesota Power will need to seek more natural gas power for its plan and the only major potential local source is Excelsior Energy’s beleaguered Mesaba Energy Project near Taconite — a one-time “clean coal” project that has since been converted to a natural gas gambit. MP might now be in the market for Excelsior’s permits, even if they’ve long resisted signing a purchase agreement with the company crafted by energy lawyers and lobbyists with Iron Range roots some 13 years ago. I’ve written a fair amount on this subject.

Excelsior still owes large sums to the IRRRB from the loans on its previous failed plan, but holds precious permits for a plant they can’t currently afford to build. Word is that they’d like to deal with MP on their mutual interests. A Minnesota Power purchase or investment in the project would dramatically change the plausibility of a power plant in this location.

CORRECTION: To clarify it is Taconite Harber where one unit will be closed, while the two units at Laskin will be converted to natural gas.

UPDATE: Another clarification, MP is seeking permits for another environmental upgrade at their Boswell plant. They did a major upgrade in the last decade, which is what I was referring to.

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