Tucked away in the tranquil town of Cohasset, nestled on the banks of the winding Mississippi River is some good news for anyone who owns a lake home in northern Minnesota.
About five miles west of Grand Rapids on U.S. Highway 2, Cohasset's 35 square miles encompass a quaint urban community and a large rural population spread among the lakes and forests of northern Minnesota. The town's only stoplight directs traffic on the bustling Highway 2, and it is not unusual to spot a large piece of wind turbine and other equipment trucked from the port of Duluth-Superior to places west along the coast-to-coast highway.
Lately the thoroughfare had seen more drivers, but they were not passersby. They were headed to Minnesota Power's Boswell Energy Center, a short drive from the city center. The multiyear Boswell Unit 4 environmental retrofit reached peak construction during 2015, bringing supplies, equipment and 600 construction workers to the site. Local labor was used for much of the project, but specialty crafts and trades were needed from all over the country. The $260 million project will reduce mercury emissions at Boswell, Minnesota Power's largest generating facility, by an estimated 90 percent and will meet the Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006 two years ahead of requirement. Similar to the 2010 Unit 3 environmental upgrade, the project installed new scrubbers and technology to reduce emissions of mercury and levels of particulates and sulfur dioxide. The $600 million clean-energy investment on Units 3 and 4 will reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent while lowering sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particulates by more than 70 percent compared with 2005 levels.
The facility has four units able to produce 1,000 megawatts to supply Minnesota Power's 143,000 residential customers and 16 municipalities. The company also powers some of the country's largest industrial customers, including the Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids and the taconite mines and processing plants of the Iron Range, industries which require a reliable source of energy at all hours and at a reasonable cost to keep them competitive on the global market.
With the retrofit finished, ahead of schedule and under budget, Boswell 4 is cost-effectively serving customers with cleaner power. The company will mark the achievement at a special gathering on Earth Day this spring.
The Boswell project also aligns with Minnesota Power's EnergyForward plan, a balanced approach to enhancing environmental performance while protecting reliability and preserving affordability. Under EnergyForward, Minnesota Power, an operating division of ALLETE Inc., is moving toward a power supply composed of one-third renewable energy, one-third natural gas and one-third coal. This has meant a reduction in the number of coal-fired power plants the company operates and an effort to reduce emissions at those that continue to supply electricity to customers.
Minnesota Power already has started diversifying its power generation, including initiatives such as the planned 10-megawatt solar energy installation at National Guard base Camp Ripley in central Minnesota; the Duluth community solar garden; a variety of wind farms including Taconite Ridge overlooking Virginia; the conversion of Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes to natural gas from coal; and investment in more hydroelectric energy. Minnesota Power already holds the title as the largest hydroelectricity producer in Minnesota. Its dams are sprinkled across northeastern Minnesota, and the company recently completed a $90 million reconstruction of Thomson Hydro in Jay Cooke State Park, which was devastated by flooding in June 2012.
For lake home owners, all the work by Minnesota Power leads to cleaner air and water and a reliable source of electricity.
"The new state-of-the-art technology at Boswell 4 will make the generating unit among the cleanest and most efficient in the nation while helping to preserve the reliable and affordable power our customers expect," said Al Hodnik, ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO. "The project is the latest achievement in our initiative to further lower emissions that began in 2006, and it demonstrates Minnesota Power's commitment to a balanced energy future through its EnergyForward strategy to help transform the nation's energy landscape."
Back in Cohasset, the traffic has returned to normal and the newly retrofitted Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 is up and running. The buzz and activity of the major project will remain a memory for the 200 or so Minnesota Power employees stationed at the site. It is back to business as usual--the business of providing power--and enhancing comfort, security and quality of life so the many homes, businesses, and industries in northeastern Minnesota can go about their business as usual.
For more information on Minnesota Power, an ALLETE company, please visit