Committee OKs Allowing New Coal Plants, Importing Coal-fired Power

Reps. Paul Anderson of Starbuck, David Hancock of Bemidji, Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa and Dan Fabian of Roseau

A time-out is needed in Minnesota air laws so new coal-fired electric plants may be built, and electricity coming from other state’s coal plants should be allowed, a state representative said Tuesday before a state House committee approved his idea.

On an 11-6 vote, the House energy and natural resources committee approved Rep. Michael Beard’s bill, with one impact being that a North Dakota electric plant due to open next year would be allowed to sell electricity to Minnesota utilities. The bill, and a similar one in the Senate, have other committee stops before reaching House and Senate votes.

In an interview, Beard, a Shakopee Republican, said Minnesota is short of electricity and he understands utilities would consider building new plants if his bill passes.

Most Democrats on the committee did not agree with the Beard bill.

“The bill as drafted takes a step back dealing with global climate change,” said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, citing emissions that many scientists say damage the climate.

Beard said he expects growing energy needs in the next decade, which could include more power from existing or new North Dakota plants. Minnesota plants also could be built under the bill.

A more favorable attitude toward coal also could provide new interest in building an addition to the South Dakota Big Stone power plant, Beard said.

Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said the Beard bill is not needed because state officials still may authorize a new coal plant.

“This is just bogus stuff,” Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said about Beard’s attempt to allow new coal plants. “I don’t think the chance of building a goal plant in Minnesota is very great.”

The most immediate impact if the bill passes, Beard said, would be allowing a Spiritwood, N.D., plant built by Minnesota-based Great River Energy to sell power to Minnesota utilities. The Jamestown-area plant would use North Dakota coal that has been dried to produce fewer emissions.

The North Dakota attorney general’s office has not responded to a Forum Communications question about whether the Beard bill would affect a lawsuit it is preparing against Minnesota on the coal power issue. Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, of the House committee said the attorney general’s office turned down his request to testify.

Rep. David Dill of Crane Lake
Rep. Kate Knuth of New Brighten