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How Does Minnesota Coal Use Stack Up Against China, the Whole United States?

Xcel Energy bombards the airwaves to inform us that they plan to generate 100 percent of their electricity with carbon free resources by 2050. To accomplish this goal, Xcel plans to prematurely retire their coal-fired power plants and replace them with weather-dependent resources like solar and wind. American Experiment’s modeling has concluded this plan will cost each Minnesota household more than $1,200 per year, every year, through 2050.

For such enormous costs, one would hope that closing our coal plants would have a significant environmental benefit, but a look at coal consumption data from China, the United States as a whole, and Minnesota shows that coal use in Minnesota barely registers on a global scale, as you can see in the graph below.

Coal consumption in China surpassed U.S. consumption in 1985, and by 2018, China was using six times more coal than the U.S., and 188 times more coal than the state of Minnesota.

Not only does China already use nearly 200 times more coal than Minnesota, but they are currently building or planning to build even more coal plants in the near future. According to the website Carbon Brief, China is currently building or planning to build 205,706 megawatts of coal capacity, which is the equivalent of building 89 Sherburne County coal plants, the largest coal-fired power plant in the state of Minnesota.

Because Minnesota uses much less coal than the United States as a whole or China, closing down our coal plants will have little environmental impact, but it will increase electricity prices because our coal plants provide some of the lowest-cost electricity in the state, as you can see in the graph below.

Minnesotans deserve to know that closing down our coal plants before the end of their useful lifetime and replacing them with weather-dependent resources like wind and solar will increase their costs by more than $1,200 per year. While the impact on family budgets will be big, the overall impact on global coal consumption will be very small.

We do not live in a vacuum, and it is important to weigh the costs of closing our coal plants against the perceived benefits. In this case, it is difficult to argue that the benefits outweigh the costs.

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