Statewide Category Archive: Utilities
Yesterday on All Things Considered I reported how the Minnesota Department of Commerce is pushing for the closure of five coal-fired electric generators in northern Minnesota by the end of the decade.
That recommendation from Commerce came after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered Minnesota Power to study the economics of closing some of its coal units. It was the first time the PUC had ordered a so-called "baseload diversification study." The PUC has since also asked Interstate Power and Light and Otter Tail Power for similar studies. It wants Otter Tail to evaluate retiring its Hoot Lake coal-fired power plant.
Tough new environmental regulations are increasingly making older and smaller coal-fired generation stations uneconomic. Many utilities are turning instead to cheap and much cleaner burning natural gas. Xcel has already converted two Twin Cities area coal plants to natural gas. Midwest Generation just announced it will close two Chicago area coal plants sooner then expected rather than retrofit them.
So is this the beginning of the end of coal? Bloomberg Energy Analyst Rob Barnett published a report this week that declares the "twilight of coal-fired power" in the U.S. Barnett says a proposed new EPA carbon dioxide standard rolled out last month "effectively bans the construction of new coal-fired power plants" in the U.S.
Still, Barnett says we'll still have coal-fired power in the U.S. for decades to come. It will just make up a smaller chunk of our electric generation. Already, coal's share of generation capacity has shrunk from 52% to 40% since 2000.
Minnesota Power's plans mirror that trajectory. The utility now derives about 95% of its electricity from coal. But next year that share will drop to 75%, and utility Vice President Al Rudeck says that will drop to 50% by 2025.
But the company also announced this week it will spend nearly $400 million dollars on environmental upgrades at its giant Boswell power plant in Cohasset. As Rudeck describes, the utility will invest more heavily in wind, hydro, and gas, but coal will still provide the base of its generation.
Minnesota Power, the utility serving northeastern Minnesota, has announced it will pay up to 60 percent, or $20,000, of the cost of a new solar electric system.
Homes and businesses would also be eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, in addition to rebates for meeting energy efficiency standards and for nonprofit or tax-exempt customers. That means a typical residential solar system costing $40,000, could cost as little as $8,000 to the buyer.
But to maximize the size of their rebate, customers need to puchase solar products manufactured in Minnesota. That qualifies them for an additional $1,000 per installed kilowatt "Minnesota Made incentive," on top of the utility's existing base rebate of $2,000/kW.
The incentive for locally manufactured equipment matches an existing program already offered by Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility. But currently only two companies manufacture solar panels in the state, TenKsolar in Bloomington, and Silicon Energy, which recently opened a manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron.
Dan Williams, vice president of a Champlin-based solar installation company, told Midwest Energy News that the "Made in Minnesota" rebate programs help Minnesota-made solar equipment compete with cheap Chinese imports. Williams, whose company is called Powerfully Green, said a three kilowatt project with Silicon Energy panels might cost $25,000. But with Xcel Energy's Minnesota made rebate, he said, the homeowner's bill is only about $5,000.
People traveling on U.S. Highway 2 between Cass Lake and Grand Rapids may notice some unusual construction activity this week.
Utility companies constructing the CapX2020 high power transmission line are using a helicopter and implosive devices on the project. That phase of the work is expected to continue through April.
The helicopter will fly close to new transmission structures near Highway 2 in Cass and Itasca counties. The aircraft is being used to install conductor wire along the power line corridor.
Construction crews will also use implosive connectors to splice transmission conductor joints. The spit-second detonation creates a flash and a loud boom.
A video of the process is posted on the CapX2020 web site.
Project safety manager Eric Hamm is advising travelers not to stop and gawk at the work.
"Stopping along the road or work area increases the likelihood of vehicle accidents and may distract workers, making their jobs more dangerous as well," said Hamm.
Power company officials say similar work on the 230kV transmission line will happen early this summer at the other end of the line, between Wilton, west of Bemidji, and Cass Lake.
Company officials say the new line will improve electric service reliability and support growth in the region.
The project is owned by Minnkota Power Cooperative, Minnesota Power, Xcel Energy, Great River Energy and Otter Tail Power Company.
By Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. - Two local inspectors for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are at the Prairie Island Nuclear plant to observe Xcel Energy's response to an alert.
The alert was declared early Thursday morning after a worker saw a break in a pipe supplying a tank full of chlorine bleach. About 500 gallons of bleach had emptied into a surrounding ditch. The alert ended later that afternoon.
The federal agency will continue to investigate, NRC spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said. The investigation is routine following an alert.
"We want to have a full understanding as to what happened, how the utility responded, and we want to make sure they took the proper steps in order to maintain safety and security at the power plant," Chandrathil said.
Xcel says a crew will clean the spill by early evening. The utility says no one was hurt, no radiation was released, and the power plant continues to work at full capacity.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says there has never been an alert at Prairie Island before.
The Prairie Island Indian Community, which sits 600 yards from the nuclear generation plant, released a statement, saying its council president, Johnny Johnson, was notified about the alert at about 4:41 a.m. and immediately activated the tribe's Emergency Response Plan. The release says Xcel told the tribe repeatedly in the early morning that there was no danger.
The statement goes on to say television news reported "there was a radiation leak at the plant and that the schools in Prescott and Ellsworth, Wisconsin were closed or delayed because of the leak." The statement does not name the television stations.
The tribe says it was concerned about which reports were accurate. Tribe officials confirmed the initial report of no danger with Xcel and then used the community's phone notification system to relay that message directly to worried residents.
"We don't know how all of this information was communicated, why the news media reported what they did, or why the school districts in Wisconsin closed schools today," the Prairie Island Indian Community statement says. "Unfortunately, living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, our members are on pins and needles. Our biggest fear is that there will be some type of accident at the plant, and this type of event can cause people to assume the worst. We need to have clear and accurate information."
About 30 people will gather in Moorhead ,Minn., on Thursday to share their thoughts on wind energy development.
The Minnesota Wind Energy Landscape Symposium is a project of Macalester College researchers. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it'ss one of three such
events scheduled across the country to sample public opinion on wind turbine development. The other Symposia were held this summer in Wyoming and Michigan.
Participants will have a chance to hear from experts on the topic of wind development. They'll also have an opportunity to respond to various development scenarios.
The goal is to develop a set of best practices for local wind development projects.
Macalester Professor Roopali Phadke also hopes to use the information in her study of
visual impact assessments for wind turbine projects, and to better understand public concern about wind turbine location.
In the past few years there's been increasing opposition to wind turbines as a growing number of people object to having wind turbines sited near them because of concerns about visual aesthetics or in some cases, noise from the turbines.
Wind energy development has slowed in recent months as a result of the stagnant economy.
There are several wind turbine projects in various stages of development in west central Minnesota.
By Stephanie Hemphill
North Dakota has made good on its threat to sue Minnesota over the Next Generation Energy Act passed by the Legislature in 2007 and signed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The law prohibits Minnesota utilities from building any new power plants that would produce a net increase in carbon emissions. They also cannot add to their imports of electricity from fossil-fueled-fired power plants
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the law unfairly restricts interstate commerce, as state officials explain in this fact sheet.
Environmental groups backing the law point out that it applies equally to Minnesota and surrounding states.
The law provided exceptions for power plants that offset carbon emissions with reductions elsewhere, and this would be an option for any North Dakota power plant that wants to sell new electricity to Minnesota.
Stenehjem points to other exceptions in the law: two industrial projects on the Iron Range, and two power plants -- all of which were already in various stages of planning when the law was negotiated and passed.
Neither of the power plants has been built. Backers of Big Stone II dropped their project because of rapidly-rising cost estimates and expected federal carbon-reduction initiatives. Mesaba Energy can't find a buyer for the electricity it wants to produce.
That suggests that the law is working as intended, moving Minnesota utilities toward cleaner sources of energy. Most of them are adjusting to the Next Gen Act's requirements quite comfortably. Because their plans for the next few years focus on wind and other renewable energy, they don't need to build new coal plants.
Utilities recently reported to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that - with few exceptions - that renewable energy is costing ratepayers the same as coal-fired power, or very little more.
Meanwhile, North Dakota is fighting with the federal government over emissions limits designed to protect national parks and wilderness areas -- including some in North Dakota and Minnesota.