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State lawmakers consider ‘coordinated effort’ to help communities when power plants shutter

As evidenced by decaying cities in the Rust Belt, communities can suffer tremendously when large employers shutter their businesses.

Now is the time to act, says Rep. Shelly Christensen (DFL-Stillwater), if we want to prevent Minnesota cities with nearby coal and nuclear power plants from suffering a similar fate when those plants close in 10-20 years.

She sponsors HF1750, which would create and fund an Energy Transition Legacy Office within the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help these cities deal with the economic disruption resulting from the expected shutdowns.

The office would develop programs to serve impacted communities, implement an energy transition legacy plan, and improve communication between affected entities and governments. Initial funding would come from a $900,000 General Fund appropriation in the 2022-23 biennium.

Transitioning away from these energy sources “will have widespread benefit,” Christensen said. “But unless we approach the transition collaboratively and proactively, it will also have deep impacts on the cities that host retiring power plants and the workers who have made their lives and careers working in those plants.”

The House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill 11-2 Wednesday and sent it to the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee. The companion, SF1566, sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

All of Minnesota’s largest investor-owned electricity-generating power plants are scheduled for early retirement or will be considered for retirement within the next 20 years, according to the Coalition of Utility Cities.

Power plants are often a community’s largest employer and property tax contributor, the coalition wrote in prepared remarks, and can sometimes contribute as much as 70% of a local community’s tax base.

“By creating this office, there will be a coordinated effort to address the economic impact of communities and workers as power plants are retired,” former Rep. Loren Solberg said in written testimony.

He noted that Colorado has already established an Energy Transition Legacy Office, which “is successfully developing programs and strategies to implement their mission.”

The bill is based on Colorado’s legislation, Christensen said.

A15-member advisory committee would be created to develop a statewide energy transition legacy plan and submit it to the governor and Legislature by July 1, 2022. The plan would:

  • identify impacted communities;
  • analyze the estimated fiscal impact of plant retirements on local governments;
  • explain the process for plant closure and its impact on the local tax base;
  • review existing state programs; and
  • recommend how best to respond to the economic impact of facility closures.

Organizations supporting the bill though written testimony include the City of Cohasset, Itasca County, Fresh Energy, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and the Coalition of Utility Cities.

As outlined in a 2020 report commissioned in part by the coalition, the five Minnesota electric power plants facing a likely retirement within the next 20 years are:

  • Sherburne County Generating Station (coal), Becker;
  • Boswell Energy Center (coal), Cohasset;
  • Monticello Nuclear Generating Station (nuclear);
  • Allen S. King Plant (coal), Oak Park Heights; and
  • Prairie Island Generating Station (nuclear), Red Wing.

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