Minnesota Power, a division of the Allete Corporation based in Duluth, owns and operates the Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder. The Energy Center is a low sulfur coal powered electrical generating station that runs three 75 mega-watt steam turbines. The power is sold to MP’s 144 thousand customers in the northern half of Minnesota, including municipal power systems, residential customers, and several very large commercial customers including taconite plants and wood product plants. Ironically, Minnesota Power does not sell power to the West End, or anywhere in Cook County. They also buy and sell electricity on the greater electrical grid. The Taconite Harbor power plant directly employs 45 people, roughly a third from Grand Marais, a third from the Schroeder, Tofte, Lutsen area and a third from the greater Silver Bay area.
Recently, Minnesota Power has established a Community Advisory Panel made up of people from the local area. There are almost 30 people on the panel, including elected officials from the counties, cities and townships, business people, tourism representatives, school officials, emergency services, regular citizens and management and staff from the power plant. According to Nancy Norr, Minnesota Power’s Regional Manager, the idea is to open up better lines of communication between our area’s largest industrial facility and the communities that surround it.
So far the panel has met twice and spent most of its time learning the history and functions of the Tac Harbor facility. The power plant was originally built by in the 1950s by Erie Mining strictly to power their taconite plant and mine in Hoyt Lakes. It was expanded in the mid ‘60s and shut down in 1982 when Erie Mining went out of business. LTV Mining reopened the plant in 1991 and ran it for ten years before they shut down. Minnesota Power bought it shortly after that and started it up again in 2002. It is just one of several power plants that Minnesota Power owns, including other coal burning generators, along with wood, hydro and wind generators. A few years ago, extensive pollution abatement equipment was installed at Taconite Harbor, significantly reducing pollutants that contribute to acid rain and other problems. They are currently working on a system that will also deeply reduce the amount of mercury that the plant emits and expect that to be done very soon. The plant was already in compliance with all pollution regulations, but the company voluntarily reduced their pollution footprint.
The people on the advisory panel have indicated that they want to know much more about the environmental issues that surround the Taconite Harbor facility along with the industrial plants that it powers now and might power in the future. They are also very interested in how the power plant can be more connected to the community, especially in the area of education and building strong, livable communities. They identified many other issues as well, that will be addressed as time goes on.
One panel member joked that they wanted Minnesota Power to contribute a million dollars to Cook County’s schools. While that provided a good laugh, it does seem like a good idea to get the schools and the company connected on a number of levels. There was another funny moment during the meeting when a panel member reported getting a cell phone call from a relative who was driving up the north shore. When asked where they were, they replied, “We’re just passing Taco-night Harbor.” Somewhere, millions of tacos are being made for taco night, but not in Schroeder.
Much has been - and will be said - about the horrible violence that erupted at the Cook County Courthouse recently. I would just like to add my voice to the chorus of relief that the victims are recovering well from their wounds and are back home in Cook County. The incident confirms what we all know – that crime and violence can happen anywhere – even in Cook County. However, we do have to remember, that while we certainly have our problems, this is a wonderful, nurturing and forgiving community. Time will be needed for everyone to recover and process. Here’s hoping the symbolic beginning of a new year will inspire us all to preserve the good and work for the better.