Proposed pipeline sparks concerns


The price of changing Xcel Energy’s Riverside Plant from using coal to using the cleaner natural gas includes a pipeline to get the gas there. And despite a fairly simple route, some environmental concerns have already been raised.

The pipeline project is part of the Minnesota Emissions Reduction Project (MERP) to reduce air emissions at three of Xcel’s dirtiest coal-burning power plants: Allen S. King Plant in Oak Park Heights (near Stillwater), the High Bridge Plant in St. Paul and the Riverside Plant in Minneapolis.

The proposed 16.3-mile long natural gas pipeline would be buried underground and primarily within existing rights-of-way, originating at the Northern Natural Gas Town Border Station in Andover and following the Burlington Northern Railroad route through Coon Rapids and Fridley to the Riverside Plant in Minneapolis.

Jeff Haase is with the facilities planning group at the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC). He has been working with Xcel and CenterPoint on the project and said that the proposed pipeline route is a good one.

“I think it’s fortunate that [CenterPoint] has this type of corridor to work with because there aren’t a whole lot of homes and businesses that will be unduly impacted by the project,” he said “I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an easy project, but in the broad scope of things it certainly could be more difficult.”

CenterPoint spokesperson Patty Pederson agrees. “We believe that the proposed route we have is the best that we can find,” she said. “Over 90 percent of this route is along existing pipeline, utility or road right-of-way, and most of it follows the railroad tracks. It really is the least disruptive way of getting this pipeline to the Riverside Plant.”

Earlier this spring the DOC held informational meetings in Hennepin and Anoka Counties to provide details about the project and gather public opinion. According to Haase, most of the concerns have come from Andover residents who live near the proposed pipeline route. “The primary concerns have come from Andover residents who actually live on 148th Street because they will be the most affected by the project since it’s going right in front of their homes,” he said. “They’re concerned about landscaping and potential harm to their property. CenterPoint intends to stay entirely in the right-of-way and they’ve been working with those residents to make sure their concerns are addressed.”

Pederson said land surveys have already begun to examine easements and determine the location of existing pipelines and utilities. “We have right-of-way agents working one-on-one with property owners to get an acknowledgement letter [agreeing that they have been notified] from all of those potentially affected along the proposed route,” she said. “Our company is very committed to keeping communication open, keeping residents informed and doing the best job we can to minimize disruption to anyone’s home or property.”

Other project challenges involve pipeline construction at congested roadways and in sensitive environmental areas. Haase said drilling will need to be done under Highways 694 and 10, and that CenterPoint must work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN DOT) for final plan approval and permitting. He added that doing construction at Bunker Hills Regional Park, Bunker Hills Golf Course and Coon Creek in Coon Rapids may also pose environmental issues.

“There’s been some indication from the Department of Natural Resources that there may be rare plants in the area of Bunker Hills, so the company will be doing a survey later this summer when those particular plants are more visible.” said Haase. “In the event that there are rare plants identified in the proposed right-of-way, there may be route variations in that area.”

“And just before Highway 10 there’s Coon Creek crossing. The entire area is kind of a wetland area, and the creek meanders through there. The company will have to work around that sensitive area, [but] just how they will go about doing that has yet to be determined.”

Overall, Haase sees the pipeline as good for the environment because energy derived from natural gas is cleaner than from burning coal. “Sulfur dioxide [emissions] at the Riverside facility will be reduced by 99 percent,” he explained. “Nitrogen oxide will be reduced by 96 percent, particulate matter by 86 percent. Mercury emissions will be eliminated.” Reducing these emissions helps fight global warming, lessens harm to the ozone and decreases water pollution.

“It’s a pretty significant environmental benefit to the area,” he added. “Riverside is one of the oldest plants in Xcel Energy’s system. It was built in 1911, and as such, it hasn’t been required to comply with [pollution] standards like the Clean Air Act because it was one of those plants that was grandfathered in. Converting to natural gas will be a significant improvement. I’m looking forward to it. I live in Northeast and I’m really happy that it’s finally getting done.”

In 2001 the state legislature passed an emissions reduction bill, which included the Metro Emissions Reduction Project (MERP). MERP encouraged utility companies to voluntarily reduce emissions through plant improvements, and allowed them to recover associated costs by increasing customers’ energy bills.

For Xcel, that means installing pollution control equipment at the King plant, and converting the High Bridge and Riverside plants from coal to natural gas. Improvements to the King and High Bridge plants have already started.

The Riverside pipeline project is slated to begin in 2007 and conclude in December 2008. The cost of improvements and conversions to all three plants is close to $1 billion, and the average increase to consumers’ monthly electricity bills is about $3.50.