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August 31, 2012

Minnesota Activists Cheer Latest Coal Plant Victory

Rochester inflatable press event

After years of hard work and grassroots organizing, Minnesota activists were high-fiving each other and doing a little dance in the name of clean air after the Rochester Public Utilities Board unanimously voted earlier this month to cease the burning of coal at the Silver Lake power plant by 2015.

"For our activists, this news is a huge deal," says Michelle Rosier, a Minnesota Sierra Club organizer, who added that activists had been working on the Silver Lake plant issue for nearly a decade. "It's the oldest coal plant in the state. It's a big victory in terms of air pollution and its impact on the local population. Because it's in a valley, the pollution would just stick."

In Olmsted County, where families have had to deal with the Silver Lake plant's sulfur dioxide emissions, more than 2,500 kids and 7,000 adults have asthma.

"Toss in another 7,000 locals who suffer from bronchitis or emphysema, and it adds up to nearly 20,000 people with breathing problems that can be worsened by small-particulate air pollution," writes the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Continuing burning coal at the Silver Lake plant didn't make sense economically, either. The cost to purchase coal turned out to be nearly twice the price anticipated by the utility. And the cost to run the boilers couldn't compete with natural gas and wind energy.

"Minnesota is at a crossroads when it comes to clean energy," says Michelle.

The state is on pace to meet its goal of 20 percent renewable by 2025. The Sierra Club is pushing for an additional 10 percent of solar in the state by 2030.

Solar panels at mayo
Solar panels at Mayo High School.

Activists are now focusing on other dirty plants in the state, namely Xcel Energy's big Sherco coal plant in the town of Becker and Minnesota Power's coal plants in the Northeast -- considered among the dirtiest of the dirty.

"Minnesota Power is kind of bucking the trend where other utilities have made huge changes in how much coal they use. Minnesota Power is still very reliant on coal and a little stubborn in making the change," says Michelle.

The Silver Lake news builds momentum for clean-air advocates. Last year, Xcel Energy announced plans to stop burning coal at its Black Dog plant in Burnsville and it converted both metro area coal plants near the Twin Cities to natural gas.

"This is part of a trend of victories for health and a clean energy future," said Ray Schmitz, Rochester resident, Sierra Club member since 1972, and a lead campaign volunteer. "Dirty, old coal-fired power plants are no longer able to meet clean air safeguards and compete with clean energy sources like wind and energy efficiency."

Rpu josh and ray
Sierra Club organizer Josh Low and lead activist Ray Schmitz.

The number of coal plants that either retired or have been scheduled for retirement is now at 120. Learn more about the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign by clicking here.

(Photos courtesy Michelle Rosier)

-- Brian Foley


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