Xcel Energy Inc. announced Tuesday that it plans to shut down two coal-fired boilers producing 253 MW at its Black Dog power plant in Minnesota and replace them with a 700 MW combined-cycle facility that uses natural gas.

The company said it also met with Minnesota regulators Tuesday and asked them to approve a certificate of need for the $600 million project at the plant, located in Burnsville, MN.

"We've looked at a number of options and we see this as the most cost-effective method of meeting our future customer needs," Tom Fallgren, the Black Dog plant manager, told NGI. "We will generate more megawatts using the existing site, which actually helps quite a bit on the economics. [The project] will meet a lot of our needs."

The combined-cycle facility would be built on what is now the plant's coal yard. The facility will include two combustion turbines, two heat recovery steam generators and a steam turbine generator, and will be connected to the power grid via 345-kilovolt lines at the site.

"We will [also] be looking at building a new natural gas line to the site to facilitate the new units," Fallgren said.

Xcel Energy said it needs the approval of several state agencies for the project, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. If approved, construction could begin in 2012 and be online in 2016. The company estimates the project will employ 300 construction workers.

Fallgren said the Black Dog power plant has been in operation since 1952. Two additional power units at the plant were converted to natural gas combined-cycle units in 2002.

Xcel Energy's announcement makes the Minneapolis, MN-based company the latest to reduce their reliance on coal to produce energy (see Daily GPI, March 9).

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the nation's largest public utility, unveiled a plan on March 2 to idle between 2,400 and 4,700 MW of coal-fired capacity by 2017. Natural gas and nuclear power would fill most of that void for the TVA, with natural gas providing up to 9,300 MW and nuclear sources adding another 5,900 MW by 2029.

Three days later, the Washington state Senate passed a bill that would make the Evergreen State the first to be coal-free by 2025. It proposes that TransAlta Corp. shut down its coal-fired Big Hanaford power plant in Centralia, WA and replace it with a natural gas turbine plant. A public hearing was held Tuesday on the measure in the state House Committee on Environment.

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