BAYPORT—Xcel Energy announced on Monday, May 20 that it will retire the Allen S. King coal plant in Bayport by 2028, more than a decade ahead of schedule.

The accelerated closure is part of the company’s proposed Upper Midwest Energy Plan, which will also close the Sherco 3 coal plant in Becker by 2030 and increase its dedication to wind and solar energy.

Xcel Energy has a historic relationship with the St. Croix River. The Allen S. King plant was constructed in 1965 by Northern States Power Company, and named after a former president and chairman. However, it was talk of a power plant on the bank of the St. Croix that eventually resulted in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. Northern States Power, now a part of Xcel, donated a portion of the acreage it owned to become part of the national scenic riverway.

As part of its clean energy initiative, Xcel also plans to expand wind and solar energy. The company aims to add 1,850 megawatts of wind power by 2022, and 3,000 megawatts of solar power by 2030, according to an Xcel press release.

The company also announced it will continue to operate its Monticello nuclear plant until 2040.

The press release stated that if the plan is approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in July, it will be the next step in the company’s transition to clean energy.

“This is a significant step forward as we are on track to reduce carbon emissions more than 80% by 2030 and transform the way we deliver energy to our customers,” said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. “Accelerating the closure of our coal plants and leading this clean energy transition would not be possible without the dedication and support of our key stakeholders.  We thank them for their work to put us on a path to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.”

Xcel worked with a coalition of groups, including environmental and labor organizations, on the agreement to close the company’s two remaining coal plants ahead of schedule.

The North Star Sierra Club was one of these organizations. The Sierra Club initially opposed Xcel’s plans to purchase the gas-fueled Mankato Energy Center, but withdrew its objection in exchange for the accelerated coal plant closures and the company’s commitment to increased solar energy, energy efficiency and consideration of local job market impacts in connection with renewable resources.

Jessica Tritsch is a representative of the North Star Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which strives to promote renewable energy resources and end dependence on fossil fuels to create a cleaner and healthier environment.

Energy derived from natural gas has long been considered less harmful to the environment than coal energy, since gas plants emit fewer fossil fuels. However, gas fracking operations can often have unintended impacts on communities, Tritsch said. In some places, the fracking process has resulted in earthquakes and gas leakage into household water pipelines. The process of extracting and transporting natural gas can also release emissions.

“Realistically, it’s comparable to coal when you look at the whole life cycle,” Tritsch said. “Really, it’s gas that’s competing with renewable energy. We’re seeing a future where we’re not going to need to build that new infrastructure. In most cases, that future is now. We are working to get to 100% clean renewable energy; we don’t know exactly how to get there yet, but retiring these coal plants is exciting because we’re increasing the renewable energy we’re adding to the system.”

The retirement of the Allen S. King plant will have impacts in the Bayport and surrounding communities. The transition toward the closure of the plant will include employee retraining and relocation to other jobs in the company.

“Our employees are the reason we are able to deliver reliable service to our customers,” said Clark. “Over the next decade, we will work closely with them and our plant host communities to ensure a successful transition. We have been on our clean energy journey for more than a decade and have a track record of making the transition with a strong focus on our employees and communities.”

The Bayport community will also face a loss of tax base with the closure of the plant; right now, the plant provides about a third of the city’s property tax revenue, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

“The good news is we’ve got nine years to plan, but it will be a big deal for the community and surrounding community, and Xcel is doing its part to support in that transition,” Tritsch said.

Xcel Energy’s plan will be presented to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on July 1 for approval.

“Clean energy and economic vitality are critically important to our communities and we appreciate the leadership and collaboration from this coalition of groups in reaching this agreement,” Clark said. “We look forward to continued partnership as this agreement is reviewed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.” 

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