Staff Directory 11331478

Walker Orenstein

Reporter | Energy, natural resources and sustainability
Phone: 612-673-4246

Walker Orenstein covers energy, natural resources and sustainability for the Star Tribune. Before that, he was a reporter at MinnPost and at news outlets in Washington state.


Walker Orenstein covers energy, natural resources and sustainability for the Star Tribune. Orenstein previously covered state government and politics with a focus on greater Minnesota and environmental issues for MinnPost, and he reported on the Legislature in Washington state for The News Tribune of Tacoma. He was raised in St. Paul and attended the University of Washington in Seattle. In his spare time, Orenstein enjoys playing hockey, hiking and camping..
Recent content from Walker Orenstein
Workers from TruNorth Solar install a rooftop solar panel power system on the roof of Sheila and Richard Miller’s house in Golden Valley.

How to solar power your home to lower your carbon footprint

There are more options for boosting solar power at home than you might think, including installing rooftop solar, subscribing to a community garden or simply paying extra to your utility.
Stacks from three large steam turbine-generators, along with massive mounds of coal, can be seen from the roof of the Sherburne County Generating Stat

Xcel drops rate fight, which will keep Minnesota utility bills cheaper

It also abruptly ended a long-running and unusually bitter split between the company and Public Utilities Commission about the "return on equity" rate.
A crew lays down fiber-optic cable in Carver County, Minn., in 2022.

Minnesota House drops 'franchise fees' on internet providers that would have hiked bills

Supporters said the policy would improve broadband access and help fund government access programming, but telecom groups lobbied against the plan.
Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant pictured in 2017.

Cause of Xcel's Prairie Island nuclear outage: Workers drilled through cables

Xcel Energy initially pinpointed the cause of a lengthy outage at its Prairie Island nuclear power plant as an equipment issue.
Water filtration and oxygen handler systems that works in concert with an electrolzyer pictured at a CenterPoint gas facility to create hydrogen Thurs

Xcel, UND say Midwest hydrogen 'hub' at risk from tax credit rules

A $1 billion federal grant could be in limbo in part because of limits on when companies can receive a hydrogen production tax credit for using nuclear and wind to create hydrogen.
Pulsar CEO Thomas Abraham-James stands in front of the company's Jetstream  #1 helium exploration facility in Babbitt on the Iron Range.

Legislators scramble to create tax, environmental plan for Minnesota's first helium operation

State and local officials fear Canadian-based Pulsar could move ahead with its northeastern Minnesota project and use gas from under state land without paying royalties.
Workers hung up a sign advertising Toyota’s line of electric vehicles during setup for the 2024 Twin Cities Auto Show at the Minneapolis Convention

Minnesota EV sales rose last year, widespread adoption still far off

While electric vehicles will be a talking point at the Twin Cities Auto Show, the segment has a long way to go.
A crew lays down fiber-optic cable last year as part of the “Connect Up Carver” initiative bringing broadband internet to rural areas in Carver Co

Some Minnesota cities want to impose fees on internet providers; customers could pay the price

Those fees would go toward improving rural broadband connectivity, increasing access to government media and offering consumer protections.
Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, left, received a tour with Jared Newton, Connexus Energy's director of Engineering a

Minnesota utilities hope surge of big-scale batteries helps transition to clean energy

A state study released this month says the batteries are a necessary piece of plans to be carbon-free by 2040.
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Minnesota appeals court dismisses Mesabi lawsuit over Nashwauk mineral leases

The DNR revoked leases from Mesabi Metallics in 2021 after the company missed its latest deadline in pursuing a long-delayed taconite mine and partly built processing plant.
Big transmission lines run along Highway 52, across farmland pictured in 2021 outside Hampton.

A new plan for Midwest power lines could cost $23 billion. Is it enough?

Some experts have called a colossal new proposal for more than a dozen power lines in the region sparse.
The control room for Units 1 and 2 at Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant in Welch, Minn., during a planned outage in 2017.

Xcel's Prairie Island nuclear plant returns after lengthy outage drew questions

State officials had asked the energy company to provide a detailed explanation for when the power plant could be running again.
Pulsar CEO Thomas Abraham-James stands in front of the company's Jetstream #1 helium exploration facility near Babbitt on the Iron Range.

Lab results show significant helium levels at drill site that would be Minnesota's first

One firm advising the Canadian company Pulsar Helium said it was the highest concentration of the gas it had ever seen.
A Senate committee on Thursday heard the case outlined by a GOP legislator that Minnesota municipalities should not ban gas stoves or heating.

Minnesota GOP bill would prevent municipalities from banning gas stoves, heating

There don't appear to be any local bans in the works, but the idea to prevent regulations has drawn support from home industry and was heard by a DFL-led committee on Wednesday.
Scott Redd, CEO and President of Sabathani Community Center, looks at the two 60-year-old gas boilers in the basement of Sabathani Community Center in

Can geothermal heat a south Minneapolis community hub?

Center leaders want to replace their 'Thelma & Louise' gas boilers with a geothermal system that would cost a total of $21 million as part of the idea of making it a "resilience hub."
The Coal Creek Power Station produces 1,100 Megawatts at full capacity and is the largest power plant in North Dakota.

Utility regulators approve Great River plan that aims for 90% carbon-free power by 2035

The Maple Grove-based cooperative has a deal to reduce coal power it buys from a North Dakota plant and wants to add wind, solar and battery power. The Sierra Club opposed the plan.
Firefighters execute a prescribed burn last week in response to the Smokehouse Creek fire, the largest wildfire in Texas history. Xcel says its equipm

Xcel admits its equipment helped spark historic Texas wildfire

The Smokehouse Creek fire has burned more than 1 million acres across the Texas Panhandle.
Xcel said Tuesday it will add another wind farm in North Dakota to its portfolio. File photo of an Xcel wind site in Colorado.

Xcel says big reason it needs to spend millions on new projects is regional grid's reliability risks

Minnesota needs to be ready with its own electricity sources, especially as severe weather hits more often.
At the Securian Center in downtown St. Paul, several dozen janitors from the SEIU, including Mohamed Geyre with his daughter Fadumo,6, protested their

Twin Cities office janitors kick off strike with pickets

"Week of action" planned as janitors, nursing home staff, teachers and others converge.
Passengers get on and off the light rail at the Capitol / Rice Street Station, Green Line light rail in St. Paul.

Person wounded in stabbing on Green Line light rail in St. Paul

The victim was treated for the injuries, and a suspect was arrested. The stabbing comes as Metro Transit works on improving light-rail safety.

Body found in St. Croix River at Hudson, Wis., park

Hudson police said they recovered the body in the water after being dispatched to the area of Lakefront Park around 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

Man dead after being found with gunshot wounds in south Minneapolis, police say

Homicide detectives are investigating the case.
In this handout photo provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service, the Smokehouse Creek wildfire in Texas burns on Wednesday. It so far has destroyed mor

Xcel stock falls after insurers allege utility's equipment is linked to large Texas wildfire

The Minneapolis-based company said it received a letter from a law firm representing property insurers aiming to notify Xcel had it "potential exposure for damages" from the Smokehouse Creek fire.
Xcel plans to build more solar arrays like this one, the first community solar array in Minnesota, which was set up in Rockford earlier this year by t

Minnesota Commerce official leaves for nonprofit in wake of conflict of interest complaints

The concerns raised by staff were tied to Louise Miltich's marriage to a solar industry lobbyist. Agency leaders said there was no conflict based on state law and policy.
Mary Mayer has been  hired as senior vice president of consumer growth for the Star Tribune.

Star Tribune hires Daily Beast manager as senior VP of consumer growth

Mary Mayer comes to the paper from the Daily Beast, where she built a subscription system for the national news site.
Pulsar CEO Thomas Abraham-James stood in front of the company's Jetstream #1 helium exploration facility in Babbitt on the Iron Range.

Helium is hiding below northern Minnesota. It could help fuel space exploration and medical tech.

Drillers looking for platinum and palladium stumbled on what may be a major helium reservoir in Minnesota. It is a sought-after commodity.
Microsoft will build a new data center in Becker, Xcel says. Shown here is a data center being built in California.

Xcel sells Becker land to Microsoft for data center, as it predicts major rise in energy demands

In a new long-range plan, Xcel predicted what amounts to a one-third spike in energy demand by 2040, a remarkable split from earlier estimates but one that mirrors national trends.
A community solar garden on Burns Valley Road in La Crescent, Minn.

Minnesota regulators cut community solar bill credits to save money for Xcel customers

The decision is estimated to save roughly $40 million a year for ratepayers, but was fiercely contested by solar garden operators and subscribers, including many local governments and schools who will lose expected savings.
Sled dogs John Lennon and Solo

Polaris snowmobile rider, company charged after Alaska collision that killed 3 sled dogs

Alaska State Troopers said the man and Polaris have been charged with a single charge of reckless driving.
Casks of spent fuel rods at Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant in 2017.

Xcel asks for more nuclear waste storage to operate Prairie Island until 2050s

Keeping the plant open an extra 20 years is a crucial part of Xcel's plan for a carbon-free energy grid, but its waste storage on the banks of the Mississippi River has drawn controversy.
Xcel wants to charge people more from 3 to 8 p.m. for using electricity, including air conditioning.

Xcel plans higher electric rates during peak evening hours

The company tested the idea and says it could ease pressure on the electric grid and help it better use renewables. But one expert says Xcel's proposed rates are a "blunder waiting to happen."
Xcel wants to extend the life of Prairie Island nuclear plant by 20 years. Pictured is the plant's control room.

Xcel Energy wants to extend life of Prairie Island nuclear facility, add two gas plants

The company's latest blueprint for generating electricity will be scrutinized by state regulators and outside groups as Xcel seeks to meet Minnesota's carbon-free law.
The milking carousel at Louriston Dairy in Murdock, Minn, operated by Riverview LLP, in a 2018 file photo.

A pipeline for cow gas draws environmental support, ag concentration concerns

The PUC met at a bar in Benson, Minn., on Tuesday evening to hear citizen feedback on a plan to pump and sell biogas that could generate green energy.
Cleveland Cliffs is expanding its United Taconite mine in Eveleth. (GLEN STUBBE/Star Tribune file photo)

Cliffs CEO lashes out at U.S. Steel in first major comments on Nippon deal

In fiery comments, Lourenco Goncalves said his company is the better choice for labor as he pressured the administration to block the $14.1 billion megadeal with Nippon of Japan.
In a 2014 photo, power Lines run along side the road near Cedar Summit Farm in Minnesota. ] BRIAN PETERSON ¥ brian.peterson@startribune.com New P

Proposal would cut red tape so clean energy projects can be built faster in Minnesota

A potentially influential state task force, to move forward the 2040 carbon-free pledge, recommends a number of changes to the permitting process, but "prime farmland" rule likely to stay.
The PUC postponed Xcel Energy's rate increase request until next fall. (File photo)

Xcel's profits hit by expenses related to 550 job cuts

The Minneapolis-based company said hundreds of workers took retirement under a voluntary program and non-union cuts.
Bits of snow covered panels at a solar garden Winona subscribes to on Burns Valley Road in La Crescent.

A community solar plan would save Xcel customers money — but cost some cities and schools millions

Minnesota regulators are considering the plan that would reduce the amount of credits subscribers to these solar arrays receive.
There are two levels of charger your electric vehicle can use at your home.

Charging your electric vehicle is half the battle. Take these steps to make your home EV ready.

What the experts say about the cost and logistics of readying your house with one of the two types of electric vehicle chargers.
A solar garden in Scandia, Minn.

Conflict of interest complaints filed against Minnesota Commerce official over solar ties

Louise Miltich, who oversees a team analyzing the community solar program as an assistant commissioner, is married to a prominent solar industry lobbyist.

Walz appoints career regulator for seat on Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

Hwikwon Ham will join a five-member board that plays a key role in overseeing utilities and Minnesota's shift away from fossil fuels.
Tom Lais will be at home Wednesday evening. He's concerned about how long he'll be able to stay in his house, due to rising property taxes and homeown

Minnesotans take big hits on non-negotiable bills like electricity, insurance

While commodities inflation has declined, services inflation has remained stubborn.
An Xcel Energy solar farm in North Branch, Mn., pictured in December 2016. Photo: brian.peterson@startribune.com

Minnesota utility regulators approve refunds averaging $25 for Xcel residential customers

In total, the company will dole out nearly $187 million in the form of one-time bill credits as the result of a rate case.
Plant director Michelle Neal and Unit 3 operations foreman Eric Stotko look out over the Sherburne County Generating Station. The first unit of the la

Xcel closing first unit at Sherco coal plant, a milestone in energy transition

The closure brings a measure of uncertainty for plant workers, surrounding communities and Xcel itself. It's also a cause for celebration among clean energy advocates.
Electric schoolbuses are still rare despite grants and other programs. They’re expensive and aren’t as versatile as traditional ones.

Red Lake joins a small club: Minnesota school districts with e-buses

The northern Minnesota district, like others in the state, needed a grant because the e-buses are expensive. Other districts say there also are some infrastructural barriers.
U.S. Steel made a major investment in Keetac in recent years.

$14B U.S. Steel deal with Nippon will have impacts for Iron Range

The United Steelworkers union, which had backed a deal with Cleveland-Cliffs, has come out against the new deal. U.S. Steel owns MinnTac and Keetac and has a stake in Hibbing Taconite.
Sled dogs John and Solo on March 7, 2022.

Three sled dogs killed in Alaska crash with Polaris snowmobile test driver

No humans were hurt, but two other dogs were also injured in the crash, according to the Alaska State Troopers.

CenterPoint rate hikes OK'd for 2024

The 5.3% increase is considered a temporary rate increase while the PUC investigates whether to approve a larger rate hike CenterPoint proposed in November.

Minnesota regulators will not investigate Xcel on community solar restrictions

The state Public Utilities Commission on a 4-0 vote opted against stepping in when Xcel says the policy is needed for system safety.

Regulators grant higher energy rates for Xcel gas, Minnesota Power for 2024

In November, both utilities asked for larger rate increases, but the state Public Utilities Commission typically grants interim rates while scrutinizing the overall request.

Owner of Duluth utility Minnesota Power exploring sale, report says

No deal is certain for Duluth-based Allete, which said it wouldn't comment on rumors or speculation.

FCC denies appeal on grants for embattled LTD Broadband, proposes $22 million penalty

The agency upheld its decision to block the beleaguered telecom company from using $1.3 billion to build high-speed internet infrastructure across the country, including $311 million in Minnesota.

Solar panel company Heliene expands Iron Range plant

Heliene, which announced plans for a new Twin Cities site earlier this year, has been growing amid demand for domestic solar equipment.

Ford, Xcel partner on commercial EV chargers, just not in Minnesota yet

The program would begin in Wisconsin and Colorado in 2024 but could eventually expand to Minnesota.
Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy, will retire in March. He is shown at a press conference with Gov. Tim Walz celebrating a law that will move Min

Xcel's president for Minnesota operations is retiring

Chris Clark has held the prominent leadership role since 2015, a period of massive change in the energy industry as utilities across the country started taking bigger steps away from fossil fuels as a response to climate change.
The Edina Public Works Community Solar Garden was built in 2019.

Predictions of soaring costs spark debate over Minnesota's community solar program

Xcel forecast the overall program cost to rise to $329 million in 2024, which would mean a significant price hike for the utility's customers.
Constance (Connie) Freeman

Constance Freeman, a force in economic development in Africa and daughter of a Minn. governor, dies at 78

Freeman steered through coups, corruption, war and economic turbulence during stints with the Peace Corps and State Department and on Capitol Hill.
File photo of the control room for units one and two at Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant in Welch, MN during a planned outage in 2017.

Xcel's Prairie Island nuclear plant will be out of commission until January

An equipment issue at the Prairie Island plant near Red Wing hasn't impacted electric service, but it could lead to higher fuel costs that are passed down to Xcel's customers on their monthly bills.
A crew installed fiber optic cable in Carver County in this file photo.

Minnesota regulators suspend crucial designation for controversial LTD Broadband

The PUC decision would block federal infrastructure money for rural broadband — at least temporarily — from going to the company.
File- This Oct. 20, 2010, file photo shows Xcel Energy's Sherco Power Plant in Becker, Minn. Minnesota, which already successfully lowered carbon emis

Price for huge Xcel transmission line more than doubles to $1.14B

The increase reflects rising costs in the energy sector that have hit prominent projects across the state and country but also other factors such as a longer route.
A home solar installation in Excelsior, Minn. on Sept. 3, 2020.

'Disappointment' over Xcel's new policy restricting small solar

Xcel says a new grid management policy is necessary for safety and reliability, but others say the standard is illegal and want it investigated.
Great River Energy’s plant in Cambridge, Minn.

Great River Energy adding fuel oil capacity to Cambridge gas plant to use during big weather events

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the project, which the utility says would help deliver reliable or cheaper power during winter storms like the February 2021 disaster in Texas.
A Tesla was charging in Duluth in 2019.

Xcel unveils $45M EV rollout plan after scrapping much larger proposal

Xcel said it wants greater consensus on how to support more public EV charging infrastructure after an idea to build and operate 730 high-speed charging stations drew sharp criticism.
Minnesota Power headquarters at Lake Avenue and West Superior Street in Duluth.

Minnesota Power wants to increase electric rates by another 12%

The request comes after the utility was granted in January a 9.5% increase that was smaller than it wanted.
CenterPoint’s underground gas storage facility in Waterville, Minn.

CenterPoint, Xcel want to raise gas rates by more than 9%

The requests filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission say the higher rates are needed to pay for infrastructure costs and cover inflation.
File photo of a runner, wearing an illuminated safety vest, cruising around Bde Maka Ska with the Minneapolis skyline behind at dusk.

Xcel revives Minneapolis 'resilience hubs' idea with federal funding

The Minnesota utility company is poised to restart an effort aimed at building more energy safeguards into lower-income neighborhoods of the city.
File photo of Xcel’s coal plant near Becker.

Xcel still pushing for higher rates in Minnesota despite regulator rejection

Xcel narrowed its financial forecast for the rest of the year.
Workers laid down pipeline as part of Enbridge’s Line 3 — now called Line 93 — project on the Fond Du Lac Native American Reservation in Cloquet

Minnesota regulators OK rare fund to decommission new Enbridge pipeline

A compromise between Enbridge and the Department of Commerce will require the oil company to pay more than $61 million a year into a decommissioning fund until 2041.