Minnesota Power has agreed to spend upwards of $500 million to install pollution control technology and meet stringent emission rates at three of its coal-fired power plants after claims arose that the company had violated the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency has announced.
The settlement, released July 16, 2014, is intended to resolve allegations that the ALLETE-owned company made illegal modifications at its plants without obtaining required permits and installing the best available air pollution control technology, as the Act requires.
The EPA expects Minnesota Power’s pollution control technology will reduce harmful emissions by more than 13,350 tons per year, which includes approximately 8,500 tons per year of sulfur dioxide. The power plants are located in Cohasset, Hoyt Lakes, and Schroeder, Minnesota.
“Reducing harmful emissions from large sources of air pollution is a national priority for EPA,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement. “By meeting some of the lowest emission rates in the country, Minnesota Power will continue to provide energy to communities across northeastern Minnesota, while at the same time, reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the air, which can pose serious health risks.”
Minnesota Power provides electric service to approximately 143,000 people and 16 municipalities within a 26,000-square-mile area in northeastern Minnesota.
The settlement also requires that the company pay a civil penalty of $1.4 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations and spend at least $4.2 million on environmental projects to benefit local communities. The state of Minnesota is co-plaintiff to the settlement and will receive $200,000 of the penalty.
“Today’s settlement will require system-wide controls to reduce harmful air pollution and will benefit Minnesota residents today and for years to come,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This innovative agreement will also fund projects that contribute to renewable energy production and restore valuable wetland habitat.”
Minnesota Power must also retire, refuel, repower, or reroute emissions at five other facilities. The company also must comply with declining system-wide annual tonnage limits for both SO2 and NOx.
SO2 and NOx, two predominant pollutants emitted from power plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.
The settlement also requires that the company spend $4.2 million on projects that will benefit the environment and local communities, including $2 million to build a large-scale solar installation system to benefit a local tribe known as the Fond du Lac Band. In addition, the company will provide between $500,000 and $1 million to replace, retrofit, or upgrade wood burning appliances to reduce pollution, and $200,000 to the National Park Service to restore wetlands at Voyageurs National Park. For the remaining money, the company can select from the following four project types: land donation and restoration, electric vehicle charging stations, clean diesel projects, or installation of renewable energy.