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Continued: Schafer: Sherco's fate is tricky to call, but let's decide soon

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 9, 2014 - 5:55 AM

Of course, the Sherco units would still be needed after the sun went down.

Xcel Energy gives the impression that it’s not that committed to any one option, just a process for getting the decision right. Alders said Xcel would like to see final air quality regulations before any decisions are made. But if need be, and with enough time, it can retire Sherco 1 and 2 and get other generation units planned, financed, constructed and on the grid.

The study now underway at Xcel, Alders said, may not look that much different from a Sherco life-cycle study filed last summer.

The options Xcel presented then included natural gas generation, so-called combined cycle plants like the newer High Bridge Generating Station in St. Paul. That would cost about $1.4 billion in capital spending.

It would be great to have that kind of plant in Becker, with its experienced local workforce and nearby transmission infrastructure. But that would mean building an 88-mile gas line at perhaps an additional $200 million.

Other options combined more natural gas plants with additional renewable energy generation, but wind power provides a different set of challenges. None is more fundamental than system reliability, which means keeping enough power generation going on days when the wind doesn’t blow, and Xcel customers still want to see their air conditioners turn on.

The biggest impression left by reading Xcel’s 2013 summary of options is that no matter what gets decided, electricity prices are going up.

Kevin Reuther of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said environmentalists generally understand that.

And if that’s the case, he quite sensibly added, “the more time we have to plan for it, the better.” • 612-673-4302

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  • The Sherco power plant in Becker, Minn., provides steady power day in and day out from units that are as much as 40 years old. But concerns about greenhouse gases mean change is coming.

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