Tuesday, April 22, 2008 By Aaron Brown
... Jim Kochevar, the public utilities general manager, said Monday that some problems with the wood-burning unit have already been solved and others will be once a sound re-engineering plan has been worked out. He said the thornier problems deal with coal — and the best long-term solution would be to abandon coal-fired power production.
Kochevar said getting coal that is free of fine particles has gotten harder over time, and getting rail delivery, which would eliminate the need for above-ground storage, has been impossible because BNSF Railway has refused to make coal cars available.
While the power plant can and will become a better neighbor in the near future, over the longer term Hibbing’s public utilities should “find a way to cost-effectively get out of coal,” at least at its downtown power plant, Kochevar said.He said the utilities might consider switching entirely to renewable fuels or producing power at a new location in partnership with Minnesota Power Co.
Hibbing, the largest city on the Iron Range, is one of two Range towns involved in the Laurentian Energy Authority which received hefty federal funding to develop biomass energy production that burns aspen and other trees grown in Northern Minnesota. Now outgoing Hibbing PUC general manager Jim Kochevar says the kinks are worked out and the city could consider switching all the way to biomass and buying some or most of its remaining electrical load from Minnesota Power. (Kochevar is soon taking a job with Cleveland Cliffs to run their Michigan energy operations, which includes biomass production).All this comes in the context of a citizen meeting where Hibbing residents expressed outrage over all the coal dust settling on the neighborhood around the PUC plant.
If Hibbing can switch to alternative fuels, any town can switch to alternative fuels. This is worth following.