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Minn. approves plan to close state’s largest coal plant

Minn. approves plan to close state’s largest coal plant
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Regulators in Minnesota on Thursday approved a plan from Xcel Energy to close the state’s two largest coal-fired generators.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved Xcel’s plan to shutter its two 682-megawatt generators at the Sherburne County Generating Station (known as Sherco) by 2026, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

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Xcel hopes to partially replace the plant with a new combined cycle gas plant, though the commission did not finalize that plan on Thursday. 

The decision to shut down the generators — as well as the commission’s approval of an Xcel plan to add 1,000 megawatts of wind power by 2019 and 650 megawatts of solar power by 2021 — means Xcel will eventually more than double its renewable energy portfolio.

“This is a great decision for our customers and the state of Minnesota,” Chris Clark, the president of Xcel Energy-Minnesota, state in a statement. 

“We can now move forward with our plan to transform our energy fleet and lead the industry in delivering cleaner energy at a cost effective price for customers.”

Sherco is Minnesota’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and among the heaviest-polluting power plants in the United States. 

Environmentalists praised the decision to close it, with a Sierra Club officials telling the St. Cloud Times that Thursday was “a really big day for our health, for our air, our water, our climate, our economy.”

But the decision leaves a lot of economic question marks, as well. Sherco employs 310 people, and that figure would be cut nearly in half if Xcel replaces the coal generators with a gas plant, a plan that wasn’t formally approved this week.

“The decision not to commit to a natural gas unit at the Sherco plant in Becker will mean ongoing uncertainty for the plant’s workers and local community for the foreseeable future,” the area’s state legislative member said, according to the Star Tribune.