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If the Era of Coal-Fired Plants is Ending; Where Will MN Energy Come From?

November 9, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - Now that the last utility company still standing has thrown in the towel on the proposed and controversial Big Stone II coal-fired power plant which was to have been built in South Dakota near the Minnesota border, environmentalists say there's still the problem of what to do with the existing coal power plants.

Beth Goodpaster, staff attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says controlling global warming is at the top of the environmental policy agenda, and the emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants will still need to be addressed.

"I mean, in the future there may be a way to retro-fit those with carbon-capture technology. It may mean that those existing coal units are no longer cost-effective options for the future and it makes more economic sense to shut them down and bring on other supplies."

Meantime, those utilities look to replace what Big Stone II would have provided for Minnesota; about half of that plant's power would have come to the state. Goodpaster says a lot of work is being done to advance renewable-energy sources that are carbon neutral; wind, solar and other sources. She says energy conservation is also a necessity.

The developers maintain that Big Stone II was the least-costly way to meet growing energy demand, but Goodpaster says the Big Stone II project lost supporters because it was financially risky, with the recession and the uncertainty about federal climate-change regulations. She says it was a victory for the state.

"Minnesota has stepped back from a cliff where it was potentially going to be going the opposition direction from the direction we need to go to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions."

In recent years, 108 out of 150 proposed coal-fired power plants in the United States have been withdrawn, blocked or abandoned by utilities, according to the Sierra Club.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN