MINNEAPOLIS This week, Minnesotans won a victory for clean air and clean energy as two Minnesota utilities announced - or were ordered - to stop burning coal at their power plants. On Wednesday, Minnesota Power, the state’s second-largest utility, announced plans to phase out coal at its Syl Laskin coal plant by 2015 and at one generating unit at its Taconite Harbor coal plant. Only 24 hours later, Otter Tail Power was ordered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to stop burning coal at its Hoot Lake coal plant by 2020.
“Minnesotans can breathe easier knowing that their utilities are reducing our state’s dependence on dirty, outdated coal plants,” said Jessica Tatro, Organizing Representative with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Minnesota. “Jobs in the wind and solar industries here in Minnesota are growing, and with more than 18 percent of our electricity coming from renewable sources, our utility companies know the capabilities of renewables. We will continue to push Minnesota utilities to invest in renewable energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Reducing carbon pollution emitted from coal plants will save our health now and protect Minnesota’s future.”
The announcements in Minnesota build on a wave of momentum in the Midwest to transition away from coal-fired generation. Earlier this month, Sierra Club and MidAmerican Energy in Iowa reached an agreement for the utility to phase out 760 megawatts of coal-fired power by 2016. This week’s announcements will take an additional 320 megawatts of dirty coal offline in Minnesota in the upcoming years.
“With more than 1,000 megawatts of coal announced for retirement in the upper Midwest in only the first month of 2013, it is clear that Midwesterners are ready to leave coal in the past,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. “Renewable energy is thriving nationally, with more wind capacity installed in 2012 than any other energy source. Continuing investment in renewable energy will keep our children healthy, fight climate disruption and grow our economy.”
Since January 2010, 137 coal plants have retired or been announced for retirement nationally, almost one-sixth of the nation’s coal fleet. In 2009 these coal plants emitted more than 188 million metric tons of carbon pollution, the equivalent annual emissions of more than 39 million passenger vehicles. These plants also emitted more than 7,600 pounds of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, and caused 6,000 heart attacks, 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths annually.
Tapping into the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters, its Beyond Coal campaign is working across the United States to end coal burning no later than 2030, replace coal-fired power plants with clean energy like wind and solar power, and keep the massive U.S. coal reserves underground and out of world markets. With a relentless focus on moving the country off of coal fired power, the campaign is engaged in more than a hundred venues, including the courts, regulatory agencies and in communities where decisions about coal mining and coal use are being debated. This includes working with workers and communities to help them transition to clean energy jobs when local coal plants are retired.