Wind, biomass and hydro usurp coal for next decade

If you had a time machine and brought this article back in time, even as recently as 2002, I might have suspected it was a work of fiction. Minnesota Power, the biggest coal burner in the state, is predicting no new coal-fired generation for at least 15 years. Instead, the company is planning additional wind, biomass and hydroelectric generation.

Minnesota Power: Renewable energy use likely to cut need for coal
Peter Passi
Duluth News Tribune – 10/31/2007

Despite growing demand for electricity, Minnesota Power said it projects it will have no need for additional coal-fired generation for the next 15 years.

The Duluth-based company will submit its resource plan today to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. That plan forecasts that by 2022, its customer load will approach 1,950 megawatts. Minnesota Power’s customers consume almost 1,750 megawatts of power. One megawatt is typically enough energy to power 250 to 300 homes.

“Through this resource plan, we’re recommitting to our goal of reducing carbon emissions,” said Dave McMillan, a senior vice president for Minnesota Power.

While Minnesota Power plans to steer clear of new coal-fired plants, it does aim to increase its overall power-generating capacity. McMillan said the company expects to add 300 to 500 megawatts of renewable energy through investments in wind power, hydroelectric and biomass-fueled plants.

McMillan said Minnesota Power continues to explore the possibility of building a biomass unit at Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes. He said he expects to announce an East Range project some time in the next several years.

The company already buys 50 megawatts of electricity from the Oliver Wind Energy facility in North Dakota and it expects to have another 50 megawatts of North Dakota wind power online by year’s end. During 2008, Minnesota Power plans to install 10 large wind turbines on Minntac property in Mountain Iron, adding 25 megawatts of wind power.

By state law, Minnesota utility companies will need to generate 25 percent of their electricity through renewable sources by 2025.

As Minnesota Power leans more heavily on wind power, it will need more plants that kick in during breezeless spells and periods of high demand.

McMillan said these generators probably will be fueled by natural gas. He said they will operate only as needed. Typically, natural gas-powered generators produce about 40 percent less carbon dioxide per megawatt than coal-fired plants.

The plants also will help Minnesota Power meet the challenge of growing air conditioner use in the Northland. McMillan said Minnesota Power has seen a surge in warm-weather electrical demand in recent years, largely because of growing development in the Brainerd area.

Several large industrial projects on the Iron Range also will boost Minnesota Power’s need for baseload electrical generation. Minnesota Power is preparing to supply electricity to new mining and processing plants now in the works, including PolyMet, which will need 75 megawatts of electricity, and Mesabi Nugget, which will need at least 15 megawatts, McMillan said.

Minnesota Power has a couple of merchant power contracts expiring in the next few years. This electricity, which had been sold under contract to other utilities in the past, will now be used to supply Minnesota Power’s customers, McMillan said. By 2010, the company should have about an additional 250 megawatts at its disposal as a result.

Note to those who believe in the Mesaba Energy Project boondoggle: That project is too expensive, unnecessary and risky to taxpayers and Northeastern Minnesota citizens. Spend your efforts instead on the Nashwauk steel plant, public works and small business development.

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