Dramatic reductions. When the state’s power utilities embarked on state-ordered efforts to reduce mercury in the mid-1990s, Minnesota’s mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants were about 1,850 pounds per year. Today they are down to about 870 pounds, and headed for less than 200 pounds by 2016. According to MPCA Commissioner John Stine, that’s a remarkable achievement.
“Mercury emissions from this sector are now at less than half of where we started a little over a decade ago,” Stine said. “And our power utilities are well ahead of their scheduled reductions laid out in the Minnesota Mercury Reductions Act of 2006.”
Leading the way
One measure of this success is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now looks to Minnesota as a model for how other states can reduce their own emissions of mercury from power utilities. And being a good model will serve Minnesota well: 90% of the airborne mercury than ends up in our water and land comes from outside our borders.
The reductions came about due to collaboration among public utilities, environmental organizations, legislators, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. That work resulted in the landmark Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006. But efforts started before that when Xcel Energy completed the Metropolitan Emissions Reduction Project in 2009, converting its High Bridge and Riverside plants from coal to natural gas fuel. Mercury controls were upgraded at other Xcel plants. And Minnesota Power and Rochester Public Utilities made significant upgrades to their plants.
Power utilities are the largest source of mercury emissions in Minnesota and most other states, and burning coal is the largest source in that sector. While the utility sector is leading the way, other sources have further to go, such as the mining sector and mercury in products.
“While we are thrilled with these mercury reductions, there’s still plenty of work to be done,” Stine said. “Reducing pollution at the source is just the first step in eliminating mercury emissions and impairments to Minnesota’s surface waters and fisheries.”