Nestled between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, just off Hwy. 10, the small town of Becker is home to 5,000 Minnesotans. In Becker, you either make your living working at Sherco (the coal-fired power plant in the city), or you know someone who does. Becker relies on the plant for 76 percent of its property tax revenue, meaning that Sherco not only provides the jobs, but also pays for the police, fire, roads, water, parks, and public schools. Every single resident benefits from Sherco’s economic impact.
But nothing lasts forever.
Two of Sherco’s coal units will be shutting down in the coming years. Xcel Energy, which owns and runs the Sherco plant, wants to be more environmentally friendly. The company has a plan to double the amount of wind and solar power it already produces and to use natural gas to even out the energy mix and stabilize the grid in uncertain weather.
Sounds like a plan a majority of Minnesotans can support, right?
Unfortunately, the Public Utilities Commission doesn’t see it that way. The PUC halted the natural gas proposal for now, throwing a huge wrench in the works. That decision currently stands in the way of residents from Becker and Sherburne County, and a million energy-consuming Minnesotans, continuing to receive what they have always relied upon from Sherco.
That’s where I came in this year, with a bill to keep the Sherco plan on track. We can wait for a multiyear process to draw out, requiring Certificates of Need and more hand-wringing as we wait on decisions from the PUC, or we can use common sense.
For those concerned about environmental impacts, natural gas emits half as much carbon as coal, so we’re moving in the right direction. For those concerned about the cost of building a new plant, Xcel will have to prove in a rate case that the costs incurred to build the plant were reasonable, prudent and in the public interest.
Meanwhile, the economic certainty of new jobs, stable tax revenue and reliable power will solidify the future of an entire region of our state.
When a Democratic governor and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a Republican-controlled Legislature can all come together to agree on an idea, it’s an encouraging sign. The citizens of Becker, Sherburne County and a million Minnesota energy users thank you for your support.
Andrew Mathews, R-Milaca, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.