BECKER -- A Minnesota “Think Tank” hopes to convince Xcel Energy and Minnesota State Regulators to reconsider depowering the Sherco power plant.

The American Experiment has launched the “Save Our Sherco” campaign to show support for the Becker power plant.

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Is the power grid in danger?

Issac Orr is a policy fellow with the American Experiment. He says depowering the plant at this time could lead to power disruptions.

So right now, the Midwest is at the highest risk of blackouts in the country, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and it's because we are doing things like shutting down perfectly good plants like Sherco. Next year, that 1200 megawatts shortfall is expected to grow to 2600 megawatts.

In response, Xcel Regional Vice-President John Marshall says the electrical grid in the state is in good shape.

Our system is in very, very good shape. We've seen some inclement weather and occasional severe weather, and the system has held up very, very well. So really pleased with the summer, certainly competent heading into the winter here moving forward.

Can Sherco produce cheaper power?

Orr says the low cost and high reliability of coal-fired power plants makes Sherco a vital part of the power grid.

So the coal plant at Sherco is one of the lowest cost, most reliable sources of electricity in the entire state. In 2019, which is the most recent year that we have available from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it was producing power for about $33 a megawatt hour, and you're not going to beat that with anything else.

In response, Marshall says natural gas plants can increase power production faster.

You know, a lot of that depends on market volatility. Gas is quickly dispatchable. Gas is at the ready. And so when you're looking at the collective balancing of the system, and trying to have a mix of sources out there at the ready, natural gas really is critical.

What about the jobs?

Orr says the campaign is about more than just electricity.

There was supposed to be a big natural gas plant that went in Becker; that was part of the deal that the city made. Then Xcel Energy pulled the rug out from underneath them. Now they want to put up 1000s of acres of solar panels to try and make up for the electricity loss. But, you know, there is there's no parking lot at a solar panel facility, there is no job impact, like there is for a coal plant.

Marshall says jobs are front-of-mind when converting plant operations.

It’s certainly important. This is not our first plant that we've transitioned, we did do not take the workforce transition lightly. Pleased to say, throughout all of our fleet transitions, we've not displaced a job; we've always had available opportunities and a very comprehensive workforce transition plan in place to ensure that our employees always have a job as well as some retraining opportunities if need be.

In 2015, Xcel Energy filed plans with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to depower the plants by 2026 as part of the power companies plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2030. The first phase, the Sherco 2 plant, is expected to be depowered in 2023.

For more on the “Save Our Sherco” campaign, click here.

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