MN climate groups applaud Xcel decision to drop plans for fossil gas plant

A coalition of Minnesota climate groups today applauded the announcement from Xcel Energy that it would abandon plans to build a massive fossil gas plant near Becker, MN. The decision comes after Minnesotans overwhelmingly opposed the plant in public comments submitted to the Public Utilities Commission before today’s filing deadline.

The Energy We Can’t Afford coalition was launched two years ago to educate Minnesotans about the health, economic and climate risks of burning fossil gas and to spotlight the proposed Sherco gas plant as wasteful, reckless and harmful, especially for BIPOC communities that bear disproportionate impacts from climate change.

“When St. Paul 350 found out that Xcel was planning to build a billion-dollar new gas plant and pipeline, we started reaching out to our neighbors right away,” said Chelsea DeArmond, founder of the group. “From City Hall to the apartment next door, St. Paul customers sent Xcel a clear message: We want 100% clean, renewable energy for everyone instead of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Christopher Clark, Xcel’s president for Minnesota and the Dakotas, told the Star Tribune the decision to end planning for the plant was influenced by the thousands of comments that Minnesotans submitted to the Public Utilities Commission on its 15-year Integrated Resource Plan. “One consistent theme in them was pretty strong opposition to our Sherco gas plant in Becker.”

Coalition members sponsored several rallies and online events over many months, including last week’s “People’s Hearing,” to underscore the flaws in energy modeling that Xcel cited in its original plan. Independent modeling done by the Sierra Club, Fresh Energy and other groups showed that eliminating the Sherco plant will save Xcel customers $150 to $200 million.

“We can’t meet our climate goals by building new fossil gas plants and pipelines,” said Jessica Tritsch of the Sierra Club. “We are reaching the point where it is cheaper to build new renewable sources of energy rather than continuing to operate existing gas plants.”

Fossil gas — also known as “natural” gas — emits methane, a powerful form of climate pollution that heats our planet 86 times faster over 20 years than carbon dioxide released from coal-burning power plants.

“The fossil fuel industry has done a great job convincing us over the years that natural gas is safe and an ideal bridge fuel,” said Brett Benson of MN350. “What we saw in Texas a few months ago showed again that’s clearly not true. Natural gas is natural only when it stays in the ground. And it’s still a fossil fuel. The devastating high temperatures in recent weeks ought to remind us it’s actually a bridge to nowhere.”

A recent International Energy Agency report notes that to reach the goal of net zero worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 every nation would need to move much faster and more aggressively away from fossil fuels than they are currently doing.

“We’re thrilled that Xcel Energy won’t be moving forward with the Sherco gas plant, and thankful for the Minnesotans who spoke up in opposition,” said Will Kenworthy, Vote Solar’s regulatory director for the Midwest. “It’s encouraging that Xcel has indicated a willingness to incorporate more distributed solar into future plans, but it’s crucial that energy equity play a significant role in the plans’ development.”

Today’s announcement “is a testament to the power of grassroots pressure and the volume of evidence proving that localized renewables and efficiency are our most economic and resilient resources,” said Alice Madden of coalition member Community Power. “But the fight is not over. Xcel has made little to no mention of equity or community-owned solar in its plan, and the company still proposes to extend nuclear, and keep coal open through 2030 despite cheaper options. Let’s celebrate now, and then keep pushing.”

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