Down on the Riverside

Activists want Xcel to clean up its oldest--and dirtiest--power plant

According to an MPCA fact sheet, the issuance of a new permit could net two immediate benefits: a requirement that Xcel study the dispersion patterns of PM10 and a correction of an error in the existing permit regarding coal-handling operations.

That's not enough for the Sierra Club's Paula Maccabee. The law that created the MPCA gives the agency broad authority to protect public health, Maccabee asserts, noting that other states--particularly in the northeast, where emissions from Midwestern coal plants are often carried by prevailing winds--have successfully required their grandfathered coal plants to meet current Clean Air Act emission standards. It is, she says, simply a question of political will. "It's the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, not the Minnesota Pollution Permitting Agency," she quips.

Xcel officials say they're looking at alternatives to reduce emissions in all of the company's metro-area power plants. As part of a signed agreement with the environmental group the Isaac Walton League, Xcel will produce a list of proposed improvements by May 1. Ron Elsner, who manages Xcel's voluntary emissions-reduction program, says those improvements could range from installing state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment to converting plants to natural gas (the preferred alternative of most activists).

For neighborhood organizers such as Fran Guminga, Xcel's promise to look at cleaning up emissions is encouraging. But Guminga worries about continuing delays--and the possibility that the utility will find a reason to exclude Riverside. (At one meeting with Xcel officials, Guminga recalls, she was told that converting Riverside's boilers to natural gas was unlikely, owing to the absence of an easily accessible supply line.) "The Clean Air Act is 30 years old," she says. "It's just time to say enough is enough. I like the people that run the plant. They're nice people. But they shouldn't keep burning coal."

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