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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 02 2011

Minnesota panel OKs new coal plants: Measure would also open up state to power from ND facilities

ST. PAUL – A time-out is needed in Minnesota air laws so new coal-fired electric plants can be built, and electricity coming from other states’ coal plants should be allowed, a state representative said Tuesday before a state House committee approved his idea.

On an 11-6 vote, the House energy and natural resources committee approved Rep. Michael Beard’s bill.

The bill would allow a North Dakota electric plant due to open next year to sell electricity to Minnesota utilities. The bill, and a similar one in the Senate, must make committee stops before reaching House and Senate votes.

In an interview, Beard, a Shakopee Republican, said Minnesota is short of electricity and he understands utilities would consider building new plants if his bill passes.

Most Democrats on the committee did not agree with the Beard bill.

“The bill as drafted takes a step back dealing with global climate change,” said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, citing emissions that many scientists say damage the climate.

Beard said he expects growing energy needs in the next decade, which could include more power from existing or new North Dakota plants. Minnesota plants also could be built under the bill.

A more favorable attitude toward coal also could provide new interest in building an addition to the South Dakota Big Stone power plant, Beard said.

Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said the Beard bill is not needed because state officials still may authorize a new coal plant.

“This is just bogus stuff,” Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said about Beard’s attempt to allow new coal plants. “I don’t think the chance of building a coal plant in Minnesota is very great.”

The most immediate impact if the bill passes, Beard said, would be allowing a Spiritwood, N.D., plant built by Minnesota-based Great River Energy to sell power to Minnesota utilities. The Jamestown-area plant would use North Dakota coal that has been dried to produce fewer emissions.

The North Dakota attorney general’s office has not responded to a Forum Communications question about whether the Beard bill would affect a lawsuit it is preparing against Minnesota on the coal power issue.

Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the attorney general’s office turned down his request to testify.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com