A hard look at Minnesota’s coal plants

On November 1st, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 to have Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, submit a plan by July of 2013 that examines alternatives to continued operations at the Sherco 1 and 2 coal-fired power plant units. The plan will compare the cost of upgrading the units (two of the three largest coal units in the state) with modern pollution controls versus retiring the units in favor of other electricity generation like wind, solar, and natural gas, and demand reduction through efficiency, conservation and other efforts.

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OPINION | Two shutdowns highlight aging nuclear plants

What happens when you take two of the state’s three nuclear generation units offline at one time? Well, apparently not much. Last week’s temporary shutdown due to a leaky pipe and exhaust leaks didn’t result in escaped radiation or produce much of a ripple in the electricity grid.But the shutdowns at the Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear plants bring attention to the fact that these units are over 41 and 38 years old, respectively, using technologies installed in the early 1970s when nuclear plants were just starting to be built on a large scale. In fact, of the 104 nuclear generation units operating in 2009, Monticello and the two Prairie Island units were the 8th, 24th and 31st units to go online in the U.S., respectively.Nuclear power has been a staple for providing continual, uninterrupted electricity in Minnesota for some time. Our state has steadily generated a little over a quarter of its electricity from nuclear sources since 1990, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Continue Reading

Some background on mining in Minnesota

I wrote recently about the potential impacts of proposed copper, nickel and precious metals mining (also called copper-nickel mining) in northeast Minnesota. Copper-nickel mining is a contested and critical issue in our state, as the proposed sites are huge projects that carry serious environmental concerns as well as job and revenue growth promises.Although no new mining has happened yet in northeast Minnesota, several companies are underway in the process of acquiring land, exploring mineral deposits and getting approval to move into the commercial mining stage. This process is already impacting landowners, communities and lands in the Superior National Forest and near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), so it is worth exploring in greater detail.First, what some don’t realize is they might not own the mineral rights under their property, basically everything under the surface dirt.There are two kinds of property estates when it comes to mining in Minnesota: the surface estate and the mineral estate. A private party, the state or federal government can own both or one type of estate depending on the land deed. For example, a private owner can sell the surface estate to a timber company for logging purposes while still retaining the right to the mineral estate below the surface.When a mining company looks to explore and evaluate mineral deposits in an area, they need to gain access first to the mineral estate. Continue Reading