CITY COUNCIL MEMBER RICK HENDRICKSON (R) gave testimony on behalf of the Sherco Power Plant in Becker to the Minnesota Public Utility Commission Thursday morning in St. Paul. (Photo from PUC website).

Sherco 1-2 issues heard in St. Paul Thursday

Contributing Writer
Bill Morgan
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a hearing Thursday morning to hear from both sides of the issue in the fate of Becker’s Sherco power plant.
Environmentalists attacked the long-term planning process Xcel Energy is presenting with hope to nudge regulators toward taking a harder look at the future of Minnesota's largest coal-fired power plant.
Beyond Coal and Sierra Club are two environmental advocates who would like to see the power plant completely shut down by 2020.
Beyond Coal and the Sierra Club are well-funded and have already been instrumental in shutting down over 150 power plants since 2010 across the United States. The protestors continue to crusade to replace Sherco’s older units (1 and 2) and replace them with better sustainable energy like wind, solar and natural gas power.
At the PUC meeting, dozens of citizens, legislators, environmentalists and local government officials got three minutes to state their case whether they were in favor of doing away with Sherco or preserve it in its present status.
Becker was represented with Dist. 15B Rep. Jim Newberger, standing up for keeping the power plant and preserving the jobs and the lifestyle of thousands of Minnesotans in the region. 
“I just want to say, since 2005, there’s been only six days where the quality of the air came to an alert status,” said Newberger. “And five of those six reports can be attributed to the big fire we had in 2005.”
Newberger said it’s his job to represent Dist. 15B to protect jobs and protect the economy.
“If Sherco gets shut down, the quality of life in Becker and the surrounding communities will be greatly affected,” he said. “Beyond Coal and the Sirra Club are well-funded and their goal is to shut down every coal-burning plant in the United States. We can’t let that happen.”
During his testimony, Newberger noted that for every worker at the Sherco plant, there are about five service jobs in the community sustained by the positive economic impact of the good-paying jobs at Sherco. He also noted that schools and churches too, would suffer as a result if Sherco were to retire Units 1 and 2 or shut down entirely.
“"Today I was proud to stand up for the hardworking families in our community whose economic well-being depends on Sherco," Newberger said. "There are thousands of families and local businesses that would be devastated if Sherco were to close its doors. 
"We cannot allow a small minority of environmentalists who want to shut down all coal plants, no matter the cost, to put the economic vitality of our community at risk."
Phil Krinke, a former state representative and current president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, got behind the push to keep Sherco a viable company.
“I’ve worked in the private sector as a small business owner of a heating and cooling company,” said Krinke. “I have knowledge of renewable energy and I think we need to allow for Sherco to run beyond 2020.”
Krinke noted that 81% of the energy in the U.S. is met by fossil fuels.
“Coal is affordable, it is reliable and it will always be that way for decades upon decades,” he said.
Citizens Gail Wilkinson and Dave Seitz promoted the plant and the life they’ve grown accustomed to in Central Minnesota. Wilkinson said she’s lived in Becker without any health or environmental issues for her, her husband and their children.
“We have well water that is awesome, we grow food in the garden that tastes great, we purchase milk from a local farmer and our potatoes are also purchased in the area,” she said. “I think if there was an issue with the air or water or ground the people of Becker would know. I’d know!”
Becker Council Member Rick Hendrickson was on hand along with City Administrator Greg Pruszinske to speak on behalf of the power plant and the economic and tax impact it has on the community. 
“We support and encourage Xcel Energy’s hard work to partner with Becker in our community development efforts,” Hendrickson said. “Xcel has been an excellent corporate citizen since Sherco 1 & 2 opened in the mid-70s. The Sherco plant is a major employer in the Becker and Sherburne County area with over 300 permanent well-paying, mostly union jobs.”
PUC Commissioner Nancy Lange said she appreciated Hendrickson’s talking points but said she’d love to hear what the Mayor of Becker would have to say on the subject. Hendrickson  informed her Mayor Lefty Kleis was unable to attend.
Some area residents, including a man from Monticello and a man from St. Cloud said they’d like to see some changes at the power plant.
Leo Cush of St. Cloud said he’s always aware of the steam and the clouds emitting from Sherco and said he’s encouraging the PUC “to take Minnesota into a sustainable energy future.”
Cush said he’s in support of converting Sherco into a cleaner electrical generator which could include natural gas, wind power, solar power and hydro power.
Dan Lamb of Monticello admitted the two power plants in Becker and Monticello are “good neighbors” but said he has seen “dust and particulate” on cars when he worked for a car dealer in 1996. He admitted that was quite a long time ago and hopes the issue with the dust has been eliminated or reduced drastically.
Lamb said that unless Xcel Energy is given “a line” they must meet, they will continue to drag their feet and keep doing things their old ways.
Members of Xcel Energy were on hand to share Sherco’s life cycle management study and follow up on a revised 2011 integrated resource plan.
“We conclude it is premature to select retirement or the extension of operations at Sherco in this study,” said James Alders, Xcel Energy’s regulatory strategy consultant. “We need to continue to plan very thoughtfully as we go through the next cycle of our resource planning.”
The PUC, made up of Commissioners Betsy Wergin (of Princeton), Nancy Lange, Beverly Jones Heydinger (chair) and Dennis O'Brien,  said they all agreed that Xcel Energy’s next resource plan needs to examine the possibility of retirement of Sherco Units 1 & 2 and the economics involved. They then would like to see a more advanced plan citing the implications a shutdown would have on the local economy.
The plans and ideas are to be submitted to the PUC by July 1.


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