Senate passes Xcel natural gas plant bill

A bill allowing Xcel Energy to build a natural gas power plant in Becker is closer to becoming law.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday on a 39-25 vote, with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and several other DFLers joining Republicans in supporting the bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign the Senate version, which contains more protections for Xcel ratepayers than the version that passed the House earlier.

The bill is aimed at replacing part of the capacity of the Sherco coal plant within the next 10 years. Xcel plans to retire the plant’s two older units by 2026.

Supporters say the natural gas plant will help preserve Becker and surrounding communities, which rely heavily on property tax revenue from Xcel.

“Thank you for doing this for our kids, for our grandkids, for our future generations,” Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Milaca, said during the floor debate. “(Sherco has) been a huge driver that has helped fund the roads, the schools, the law enforcement.”

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, also cited future generations as he gave his reasons for opposing the bill. Marty says Xcel’s ratepayers will lose if it turns out cleaner energy options would also have been cheaper and said evaluating those costs is the job of the Public Utilities Commission.

“I’m just very concerned we’re making decisions now that will last for 50 years. We are robbing our children of some of their choices,” he said.

Xcel estimates building the plant will cost about $800 million, but opponents of the bill say the costs of a natural gas pipeline plus the natural gas itself could add hundreds of millions of dollars to that figure.