Minnesota Power to close one of three coal-burning units at Tac Harbor; no layoffs expected

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Minnesota Power announced Wednesday it will vlose ofne of three coal-fired units at its Taconite Harbor plant on the North Shore in Cook County.

The Duluth News Tribune reported Thursday morning that Minnesota Power will convert its coal-fired power plant in Hoyt Lakes to natural gas as the utility continues a move away from carbon dioxode-creating coal.

Burning coal causes smog, acid rain, global warming and toxic air emissions.

The company said it will retire one of three coal-burning units at Taconite Harbor but keep the other two units burning coal because they already have been upgraded with pollution-control devices for mercury and other emissions.

Al Rudek, vice president of strategy and planning for the utility, said no layoffs are expected at Taconite Harbor or Hoyt Lakes. He told the Duluth newspaper that the company hopes any cuts in the work force would be achieved through attrition.

The company said it would spend $15 million in 2015 to convert the 110-megawatt Laskin coal plant in Hoyt Lakes to cleaner-burning natural gas, which produces much less carbon dioxide and mercury than coal. The plant would be the first gas-fired generator for the Duluth-based utility.

And the company will add $350 million in pollution-control technology at its Boswell 4 unit in Cohasset to meet current and forthcoming pollution regulations, keeping that unit open for the foreseeable future.

The announcement noted the utility’s addition last year of more wind turbines in North Dakota, where it now generates 400 megawatts of wind energy for its northern Minnesota customers.

The moves will push Minnesota Power, which produced 95 percent of its electricity from coal less than a decade ago, to more than 20 percent from non-coal sources, a critical step in the face of expected climate-change legislation to reduce pollution from burning coal.

The company hinted at development of a second large natural-gas-fired power plant sometime after 2020 to feed the proposed development of copper mining and expansion of taconite mining across the region, although no details were offered.

Company officials said the goal by the 2020s is to produce about a third of the utility’s electrify from natural gas, one-third by coal and one-third from renewable sources such as wind and hydro.