by Martin Gordon
On Thursday, October 25th, Sierra Club and clean energy supporters from across the state braved bitterly cold rain to gather at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) building in downtown Saint Paul to let their voices be heard. A hearing at the PUC was being held to discuss Xcel Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan wherein the future of Minnesota’s largest coal-fired power plant, Sherco, was up for debate. Built in the mid 70’s, the plant is in need of some major updates and Xcel intends to spend millions of dollars to retrofit and keep the facilities online past 2025. However, a crowd of Xcel’s customers showed up at the hearing to ask them to instead investigate using alternative energy production methods and calling for them to make the first step towards a brighter energy future for the state and its citizens.
This hearing represented the culmination of over a years worth of work for the Sierra Club and supporting groups. Comments had been submitted by from hundreds of individuals and businesses asking that Sherco be replaced by clean energy sources, that the Black Dog coal plant stop burning coal, and that Xcel Energy invest more in solar. The campaign successfully demonstrated the demand for clean energy alternatives in the state. The hearing then provided an opportunity to put a face to all those comments.
The pre-hearing meeting took place in the basement of the PUC where dozens of community members came together to listen to speakers from a variety of backgrounds including student and clean energy business leaders, concerned parents and faith leaders. While the testimonies differed greatly in scope it was obvious that they were united with the goal of seeing Minnesota moved toward a different energy paradigm characterized not by dirty energy production and negative externalities for its citizens but by a clean, prosperous and safe future. The supporters heard about the threats we and our environment face from coal burning and were motivated by successes experienced by similar campaigns.
Charged with energy the group moved upstairs and entered into the hearing room together wearing clean energy stickers. Their presence was hard to ignore as they entered, greatly adding to the number of attendees present at the hearing.
During the hearing’s brief public comment period, all 16 speakers urged the replacement of coal with clean energy, asking the PUC to support ending coal burning at Black Dog, order a coal replacement study for Sherco 1&2 and invest more in solar energy. Speakers included climate activist and explorer Will Steger, Alexis Williams of Restoring Eden, Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon, several reps from solar energy businesses – Jon Kramer (Sundial Solar), Nathan Franzen (Westwood) & Lynn Hinkle (MNSEIA), Christina Mills from the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research, John Farrell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, Beth Soholt of Wind on the Wires, Chris Goepfert for National Parks & Conservation Association, Phil Kelly with Campus Beyond Coal, John Crampton of the Bloomington Izaak Walton League Chapter, Shawna Hedlund (MPH), Bruce Stensiwck, Troy Bejegerde, and Sierra Club North Star Chapter State Director Margaret Levin who highlighted the over 3,300 individuals who submitted comments to the PUC in support of replacing coal with clean energy.
The hearing will be followed up November 1st with decisions on Xcel Energy’s long term plan. The meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the MN PUC large hearing room at 121 E 7th Place, St Paul, MN, Suite 350.