The June 4 political cartoon lampooning supporters of coal demonstrates an insensitivity and ignorance that is shared by Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL when it comes to the issue of climate change and the supporters of coal as a source of energy.
Last year, the DFL majority forced Xcel Energy to adopt a 30 percent renewable energy standard by 2020. Now the Obama administration wants to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The war on coal has come home to Minnesota. Now let’s consider the cost.
Sherco, located in Becker, Minn., produces enough energy for almost half of our state and is the largest coal power plant in the Midwest. It produces 2,400 megawatts of electricity for more than 2.5 million people. That’s more power than both of Minnesota’s nuclear plants combined.
Sherco’s impact on Central Minnesota’s economy is undeniable. It employs more than 800 people at the peak of its maintenance cycle, and it sells high-pressure steam to a nearby paper producer that employs more than 150. These represent good-paying jobs that support families. The plant also pays a majority of the local property tax burden in Becker.
Studies show that for each manufacturing job like the ones at Sherco, there are five service industry jobs at restaurants, gas stations and stores. If Sherco were to close, and those 800-plus jobs were not replaced, that could put at risk nearly 5,000 jobs supported by Sherco’s economic footprint. Simply put, this would be devastating to Central Minnesota’s economy.
I believe the environmentalist focus on Sherco is misplaced. Sherco already meets or exceeds federal clean air standards, and it plans to spend hundreds of millions more for emissions scrubbers to further reduce its environmental impact. Leadership from the organization leading the charge to close Sherco, Beyond Coal, has publicly admitted that Sherco is “unbelievably clean.”
Coal provides the most power at the lowest cost. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesota homes are powered by Sherco, and they would face skyrocketing energy bills if Sherco were to shut down or be forced to spend hundreds of millions converting to natural gas.
Proponents of coal are not necessarily opponents of renewable energy. The stubborn fact remains that wind and solar are heavily subsidized, and they are simply unable to match the energy production of coal. Wind and solar are not viable alternatives until the technology allows us to mass-produce solar and wind power at a far lower cost.
The United States has enough coal to power our country for the next 200 years. Coal isn’t dangerous to transport. Sherco continues to work to reduce its environmental impact, but that simply isn’t enough for the radical environmentalists who want to see all coal plants shuttered — no matter the cost to regular families.
If Dayton and environmentalist DFLers have their way, your electric bill will go way, way up. They have presented no viable alternatives to replacing the power needs of Minnesota if Sherco were to close. The clock is ticking; the shutdown process for Sherco and other Minnesota coal plants starts in five years.
Minnesotans need to ask their elected officials: “What’s your plan? If you want to close coal plants, how will you make sure energy bills don’t skyrocket?” Minnesota families already are feeling the pinch under tax-and-spend one-party DFL rule. Adding more to their electric bills will make it even tougher for lower- and middle-class Minnesotans to raise their families in our great state.
I appreciate the passion environmentalists have, but it’s misguided. Why do they want to punish the U.S. coal industry? This industry is striving to be cleaner and more efficient than ever, and it is meeting existing environmental standards. If they want to go after “dirty coal,” then go to China or Russia where there are few, if any, pollution standards. Why penalize the people who are working to be responsible stewards of the environment?
A few years ago, the Verso paper mill was forced to shut down due to a tragic accident. Hundreds of jobs were in jeopardy. Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and the rest of the DFL bent over backward to try to help them.
Now Dayton, Klobuchar and the DFL are bending over backward to destroy the economy of Central Minnesota.
Jim Newberger, R-Becker, is a member of the Minnesota House.