The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission told the utility that the “premature closure of these [coal] plants adds to the uncertainty of electrical generation resource adequacy in the upper Midwest.” Some energy experts call the government’s policies “irrational.”
Despite ongoing warnings that the electricity grid of the United States is becoming increasingly unstable, a major utility is moving forward with the elimination of two major coal-fired power plants in the upper Midwest. Energy analysts say the instability is a byproduct of the shutdown of reliable generation sources.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy closed one of three coal units at Sherburne County Generating Plant, in December, as part of its plans to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity. It will shut the other two stations down, according to the Star Tribune, by 2030. The utility will also shutter its Allen S. King coal plant by 2028.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission is asking Xcel Energy to reconsider the plan, warning the “premature closure of these plants adds to the uncertainty of electrical generation resource adequacy in the upper Midwest.”
Isaac Orr, policy fellow for the Center of the American Experiment and co-author of “Energy Bad Boys,” told Just The News that the move to shut down the plants is part of an increasingly irrational energy policy that encourages bad decisions.
The Sherburne County Generating Plants provide power to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which manages the flow of electricity across 15 states and the Canadian province of Manitoba.
In its latest assessment, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a grid watchdog, warned that the MISO region is under some of the highest risks for resource inadequacy, which means that during peak demand periods, rolling blackouts are a possibility. Xcel Energy, according to the Energy News Network, is even looking at variable rates to encourage customers to conserve energy and use it during off-peak periods.
Orr said it’s problematic that utilities are substituting having adequate electricity generation for programs to discourage energy use. “It’s like saying, ‘Oh you’re hungry? Have you tried skipping lunch?’ To me, that’s not okay,” Orr said.
Other People’s Electricity
Orr said that Xcel Energy has a capacity surplus, according to the way MISO over credits wind and solar capacity. “I think that’s problematic, especially in winter, if you think that wind is going to show up at negative 23 [degrees]. I think that you’re mistaken,” Orr said.
Orr added that as Xcel shuts down its coal capacity, it’s going to move into a situation where it doesn’t have enough electricity to meet demand, such as during a severe cold snap. Their plan, he said, is to just import power from resources in the MISO territory. “The problem with that is eventually you run out of other people’s electricity,” Orr explained.
Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska have all set goals to decarbonize their grid by 2040 or 2050, which will mean eliminating coal-fired power plants entirely. These goals are on top of federal green energy mandates.
Driving the grid toward a greater reliance on wind and solar energy resources, besides increasing risk of blackouts, it’s also driving up utility bills. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential bill increased by 15% from 2020 to 2022.