Minnesota and coal

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Minnesota had 46 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 5,676 MW of capacity, representing 43.8% of the state's total electric generating capacity; Minnesota ranks 22nd out of the 50 states in terms of coal-fired electric generating capacity.[1] In 2006, Minnesota's coal-fired power plants produced 34.9 million tons of CO2, more than 80,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 76,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 34.1% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[2] In 2005, Minnesota emitted 19.9 tons of CO2 per person, roughly equal to the U.S. average.[3]

There was no coal mining in Minnesota in 2006.[4]

Citizen activism


There is no history of coal mining in Minnesota, as the state has little or no coal reserves.[5][6] The coal power industry is fairly strong in the state, however: a large proportion of the state's power plants are coal-fired, and coal giant Xcel Energy is headquartered in Minneapolis. However, in the mid-1990's, Minnesota state regulators began to demonstrate stronger opposition to the construction of new coal-fired power plants, based to a large extent on concerns about global warming.

The battle over the future of coal in Minnesota in 2009 was focused on the Big Stone II proposed coal plant in South Dakota, several miles from the Minnesota border; that project, which was canceled in late 2009, would have depended on the construction of transmission lines through Minnesota.[7]

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency finds mercury increase in fish from state lakes

In February 2009, the MPCA released a study showing that methylmercury levels in large Minnesota fish including northern pike and walleye had increased unexpectedly. Mercury levels had declined by 37 percent between 1982 and the mid-1990s, but have since increased by 15 percent. The analysis, which was based on tissue samples from fish collected from over 800 state lakes, concerns scientists because the mercury is toxic to humans and wildlife. The agency said that a local source of mercury is not likely to be responsible. Instead, mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants outside the state and factors related to global climate change are probably to blame.[8]

Legislative issues

In 2007 Minnesota announced that it would add a "carbon fee" to electricity imports from North Dakota (similar to a tax or tariff) of between $4 to $32 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted by the state's coal-fired power plants, to begin in 2012. In early January 2010 North Dakota announced it was in the process of taking legal action against Minnesota, arguing that the law would unfairly tax electricity imports from North Dakota's coal-fired power plants. .[9]

In early 2011 Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) introduced HF72, which would lift the ban on new coal plants, and he also introduced HF509 to repeal the 2007 plan to curb greenhouse gasses and build Minnesota’s renewable energy infrastructure.[10]

Minnesota Senate votes to lift coal plant restrictions

On April 14, 2011 Minnesota senators voted to lift restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from coal production, with supporters of the bill calling it a necessary step to keep up with growing energy demand in the state.

The Minnesota Senate voted 42-18 in favor of scrapping what supporters said has amounted to a moratorium on both new coal plants in the state and purchase of energy produced by new coal plants in neighboring states such as North Dakota. A few Democrats joined all the Minnesota chamber's Republicans in voting to lift the restrictions.

The bill, if signed by the Governor, will undo key provision from a package of bills the Legislature passed in 2007 that was intended to boost the state's investment in renewable energy.[11]

Coal groups to pay chunk of North Dakota state lawsuit against Minnesota

It was reported in December 2011 that North Dakota utilities as well as coal interests agreed to pay up to $500,000 of the state's cost in challenging a Minnesota law that restricts imports of coal-generated electricity. However, the state of North Dakota will carry most expense.

North Dakota sued Minnesota in federal court, saying that a law enacted in 2007, which bars utilities from buying power from new plants that would raise carbon dioxide emissions, illegally restricts business between states. They also claim that the law encroaches on Congress' power to regulate interstate power sales and CO2 emissions.[12]

Proposed coal plants



  • Rosemount Project, Rosemount, MN
  • Big Stone II, Milbank, SD (several miles from MN border, and depends on regulatory approval for construction of transmission lines through MN)

Coal lobbying groups

Coal power companies

Existing coal plants

Minnesota had 46 coal-fired generating units at 21 locations in 2005, with 5,676 MW of capacity - representing 43.8% of the state's total electric generating capacity.[13][14]

Here is a list of coal power plants in Minnesota with capacity over 400 MW:[15][16]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Sherburne County Sherburne Xcel Energy 1976, 1977, 1987 2129 MW 17,900,000 tons 24,742 tons 212
Clay Boswell Itasca ALLETE 1958, 1960, 1973, 1980 1073 MW 7,150,000 tons 20,407 tons 165
Allen S. King Washington Xcel Energy 1958 598 MW 3,402,000 tons 26,181 tons N/A
Riverside (converted to natural gas) Hennepin Xcel Energy 1964, 1987 404 MW 2,738,000 tons 8,538 tons N/A

These 4 plants represent 74.1% of Minnesota's coal energy generating capacity, 30.5% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and 51.0% of its total SO2 emissions.[3]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Xcel to complete conversion of coal power plant to natural gas

In August 2011 Xcel Energy said it was to complete the conversion of one of its Minnesota power plants from coal to natural gas. It was reported that Xcel is seeking permission from state officials to switch the remaining Black Dog Generating Station units in Burnsville to natural gas.[17]

Environmental and health issues

Drinking water found contaminated with toxic hexavalent chromium from coal

A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal ash waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, the Sherburne County Plant in Becker was reported as having high levels of chromium seeping into groundwater.[18]

As a press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[19]

Elevated mercury levels in infants

Between 2008 and 2010, researchers at the Minnesota Department of Health randomly checked blood samples taken from infants born around the Lake Superior Basin, the majority from Minnesota, to examine mercury levels. In all, 8 percent of the babies had blood concentrations above the EPA health standard for mercury -- up to a thousand times higher. In Minnesota, 10 percent of the blood samples had mercury levels above the healthy standard. Babies born in the summer months, when local fish consumption is highest, had more mercury than those born in winter.[20]


As of 2009, the following Minnesota generating units did not have sulfur scrubbers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Black Dog Units 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Boswell Energy Center Units 1, 2, 3
  • High Bridge Units 3, 4, 5, 6
  • Hoot Lake Units 2, 3
  • Laskin Energy Center Units 1, 2
  • Minnesota Valley Unit 4
  • Northeast Station NEPP
  • Northshore Mining Silver Bay Power, PB1 and PB2
  • Riverside Units 6, 7, 8
  • Silver Lake Unit 4

Major coal mines

There are no major coal mines in Minnesota.[21]

Citizen groups



  1. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  2. Estimated Emissions for U.S. Electric Power Industry by State, 1990-2006, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Minnesota Energy Consumption Information, eRedux website, accessed June 2008.
  4. Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  5. State Coal Profiles, Energy Information Administration, 1994. - cached copy at CoalDiver.org
  6. Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2006, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  7. The End of Coal?, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 19, 2008.
  8. "Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sees rise in mercury levels in northern pike, walleye from state lakes," Pioneer Press, February 18, 2009.
  9. "First Carbon Tariff Will Tax CO2 at the Border," Susan Kraemer, Scientific America, January 1, 2010.
  10. "GOP’s Beard wants more coal plants because God will fix global warming" Andy Birkley, Minnesota Independent, February 16, 2011.
  11. "Minn. Senate votes to lift coal plant restrictions; backers say energy needs a bigger priority" Patrick Condon, CanadianBusiness.com, April 14, 2011.
  12. "Coal groups paying $500K for lawsuit" Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, December 28, 2011.
  13. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  14. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  15. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  16. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  17. "Xcel to complete conversion of coal power plant to natural gas" Dan Olson, MRPNews, accessed August 23, 2011.
  18. "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  19. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.
  20. Josephine Marcotty, "High levels of mercury found in North Shore babies" Star Tribune, Feb. 2, 2012.
  21. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.


Existing coal plants in Minnesota

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