Climate Success: After 60 Years, Coal Burning in Burnsville Comes to an End

In most cases, when something endures for 60 years it is cause for celebration. In Burnsville, Minnesota, however, the celebration last week was about something that was ending after 60 years – coal. The last coal train has rolled to a final stop in Burnsville, and Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and her entire community have reason to celebrate.

The Black Dog Power Plant has burned coal for more than 60 years – longer than most people in Burnsville have been alive, and for the entire 20 years that Mayor Kautz has served the people of the city.

But on April 8, the plant received its last delivery of coal, as the owners of the plant have decided to fully convert to natural gas combustion. This decision, made in the face of tightened EPA clean air regulations that require stringent controls to reduce mercury and greenhouse gas emissions, will result in more than 95-percent reductions in those pollutants from a plant that was calculated to be the fifth largest source of CO2 pollution in the state.

The plant’s owners, Xcel Energy, have set a goal to produce 63 percent of its power carbon-free by 2030. Eliminating coal is a powerful first step in that direction.

Not only will the Black Dog plant burn cleaner, but it will also be more adaptive to day-to-day energy needs, as gas generation is more easily scaled up or down based on demand. The train track to the plant, which is surrounded by local parkland, will be converted to a biking and walking trail. And the Black Dog’s iconic smokestack will come down.

Normally, the transition from one fuel type to another doesn’t get much attention. But Mayor Kautz, long committed to leading her city on the pathway to sustainability, saw an opportunity to tout progress and point toward improvements that are yet to come. The mayor and officials from Xcel Energy coordinated a press strategy to announce the shift to natural gas, generating television and radio stories that proclaimed the end of an era – and the start of a new cleaner, more sustainable economy for Burnsville. With camera crews on the scene as that last coal train came rumbling to a halt at Black Dog, Mayor Kautz was able to frame an otherwise un-newsworthy event into a positive story about progress in Burnsville.

Increasingly, local leaders are not only leading on climate, energy, and sustainability policies and programs, they’re also using events like these to showcase their leadership and to involve their communities in their success stories. In her role as Mayor of Burnsville, Mayor Kautz embodies the core tenets of the Path to Positive: lead by example, and engage others.

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