Xcel Energy shuts down Sherburne County Unit 2 coal unit as grid reliability worsens.

On New Year’s Eve, 2023, Xcel Energy shut down Unit 2 at the coal-fired Sherburne County (Sherco) generating station. Unit 2 was a 680-megawatt (MW) facility capable of powering 25 percent of the homes in Minnesota on an annual hourly basis that entered service in 1977.

Xcel’s decision was a bad one for the reliability and affordability of the electric grid.

According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the regional grid to which Minnesota belongs, the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO), is the most at risk of rolling blackouts in the near future because too many coal plants are being retired without enough reliable generators coming online to replace them.

NERC expects MISO to be in a reliability hole in the coming years, and Xcel Energy’s decision to shut down will only dig it deeper while also destroying good, family-supporting jobs in Becker. It is the senseless destruction of the reliability and affordability of the standard of living in Becker.

Closing Sherco will also mean higher electricity prices because electricity generated by new wind projects costs twice as much as the Sherco plant, and new solar costs more than three times more than Sherco, which you can see in the graph below.

Not only are solar and wind much more expensive than the electricity generated by the company’s coal plants, they are also much less reliable.

For example, the graph below shows that Xcel’s coal plants, with a combined capacity of 2,479 MW, produced more electricity than all of the wind turbines on the regional electric grid combined during several hours of the Polar Vortex of 2021.

This should never happen because there was eight times more wind capacity (22,040 MW) on the regional grid than Xcel had coal plants.

Units 1 and 3 at Sherco continue to operate, but Xcel Energy’s decision to prematurely shut down these units before the end of their useful lifetimes has imposed real economic hardship on its customers and made the electric grid less reliable.

Unfortunately, the members of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, all of whom were appointed or reappointed by Governor Walz, do not seem to be taking the reliability risks seriously, and they are not doing enough to ensure that electricity prices remain as low as possible for everyone.

Pour one out for Sherco, and give thanks to the many men and women who worked there to produce the electricity we relied upon every second of every day.