In Friday's Morning Take, we read about promotional activities for tomorrow's Governor's Pheasant Opener near Mankato. Lt. Governor Tina Smith
At 4:00pm, the Lt. Governor and the Nicollet Conservation Club will take a guided boat tour of Swan Lake, the largest prairie pothole marsh in the contiguous United States.
It's good to see the lake valued and we hope Smith enjoys the tour.
Back in the early 1970s, the shallow prairie lake was a candidate for becoming the cooling pond for a coal-fired power plant. In 2013, the New Ulm Journal reported in Swan Lake meeting draws a crowd:
A roomful of outdoors enthusiasts energetically told of their past and present experiences on Swan Lake at the Nicollet Conservation Club on Tuesday.
Hosted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Nicollet County Historical Society (NHS), the event about one of the largest prairie pothole lakes in the lower 48 states included a wide array of information and story telling by DNR and NHS officials as well as area sports enthusiasts.
Once twice the size it is now, Swan Lake was Minnesota's largest marsh-wetland ecosystem before it was drained for more farmland decades ago. . . .
Swan Lake's water level is more stable than many other area lakes and sloughs. It's well vegetated," said Stein Innvaer of the Nicollet DNR office. "Northern States Power (NSP) was going to build a coal-fired power plant on the lake once.
There's little record online of that folly, though it does turn up in an October 3, 1972 article in the Newspapers.com version of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal:
[David Vesall, assistant game and fish director] and other officials of the DNR met with the Governor's Task Force on Power Plant Siting to explain the department's position on designation of the Lake. Swan Lake is one of seven sites proposed for development by Northern States Power Co. of a 1,600-megawatt fossil burning power plant.
Fortunately for hunters, bird watchers and others, Swan Lake did not become an industrial cooling pond. A few years later, Northern States (now Xcel) built two coal burners near Becker, the Sherburne County (Sherco) Generating Station's Units 1 & 2. In light of the Clean Power Plan, Xcel is planning to shut down two of the three coal-burning units.
It's possible, then, that Nicollet County could have going through the turmoil facing Sherburne County, rather than the tour today, had the fool-hardy choice to turn a duck-factory into an industrial site gone forward.
Yesterday, Bluestem Prairie watched the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Clean Power Plan Stakeholder meeting online, listening to representatives from utilities, environmental organizations and state legislators discuss the plan to reduce carbon emissions--and possibly slow climate change.
One legislator tweeted:
At Clean Power Plan mtg I am reminded/remember: Team work makes the Dream Work! Mn leadership works = problem solving.— Rep. Rick hansen (@reprickhansen) October 8, 2015
What will happen in Becker as the two coal-fired units are phased out? Two Republican lawmakers fretted about that, but others, including an owner of a construction company, pointed out that clean energy also creates jobs.
Even in Becker, Xcel's plan isn't a complete bust for the town. The Sherburn County Citizen reported Wednesday in Xcel Energy proposes to close Sherco Units 1 & 2 by 2026:
. . . In 2023, Sherco Unit 2 will be shut down. In 2026, Sherco Unit 1 will be shut down and subsequently, Sherco Unit 2 will be converted to natural gas that same year.Sherco’s larger, newer Unit 3, which has more modern pollution controls, would continue burning coal.Xcel Energy said they are committed to continue to provide high pressure steam to Liberty Paper in Becker.
Newberger says the shutting down of Units 1 & 2 will eliminate about 150 full-time jobs.“Xcel has informed me that many of these job eliminations will be by attrition and retirement,” Newberger said. “The rest will be reassigned to other areas within Xcel.”Newberger also said he was relieved at the news that the currently employed will be able to remain employed if they do not retire.“I am also relieved that creating a new gas plant will ensure some form of property tax base for the City of Becker,” he said.But his frustration over the situation is still palpable.“However, the fact remains that these 150 jobs will not be replaced with new workers as they would be if the plant were to continue its normal operation,” he said. “That means 150 fewer good-paying job opportunities for families in our area. The economic impact will be a staggering blow to Central Minnesota.” . ..
We'll be hearing a lot about those 150 local jobs at Xcel Energy, which will slowly be phased out as the workers filling them retire or move on to other opportunities as we move toward the shutdowns in 2023 and 2026.
We have to wonder, however, that Becker and Sherburne County might have something to dangle for companies looking to locate in Greater Minnesota. Skilled workers, quality housing, access to a freeway (and Highway 10), along with proximity to St. Cloud, the western suburbs, as well as natural amenities like the Mississippi River, the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Sand Dune State Forest: all of these are assets.
Change is difficult--but part of leadership is to direct resources to toward the opportunities offered by it, rather than to exhaust resources and emotion in a rear-guard action against it.
Photo: Sherco 1, via WJON.
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