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Becker considers options with scaled-back energy plant

A sign marks an entrance to the Sherburne County Generating Plant, known as Sherco. The plant owner, Xcel Energy, plans to generate 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050, leaving the future of the coal-fired plant in doubt. Two of its three generators will be retired by 2026. (Kirsti Marohn/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

A sign marks an entrance to the Sherburne County Generating Plant, known as Sherco. The plant owner, Xcel Energy, plans to generate nothing but carbon-free electricity by 2050, leaving the future of the coal-fired plant in doubt. Two of its three generators will be retired by 2026. (Kirsti Marohn/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

BECKER, Minn. (AP) — A central Minnesota city that is home to the largest coal-fired plant in the Upper Midwest is looking to diversify the local economy as Xcel Energy plans to retire most of the generators at the plant in the next seven years.

Xcel Energy, which owns the plant, recently announced plans to replace two of the three Sherburne County Generating Station generators with a smaller natural-gas plant, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Xcel Energy, which has its headquarters in Minneapolis, plans to eliminate all its carbon emissions from electric power by 2050 by relying more on renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar.

But the coal plant in Becker provides 300 jobs and accounts for three-fourths of the city’s property tax revenue. Becker officials are being forced to imagine a future without the fossil fuel.

“I never thought I would find myself in the middle of this battle for coal in this country,” said Becker City Administrator Greg Pruszinske. “And here we are, smack-dab right in the middle.”

City leaders are looking to bring in new businesses so Becker can thrive without relying on coal.

Many are hopeful about recent news that Google is considering the city for the site of a new $600 million data center. The project could create 50 permanent jobs and around 2,000 construction jobs for up to 24 months, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Pruszinske said the city has land, nearby highways and rail lines and a ready workforce, which makes it attractive for the Google project as well as industries that produce renewable energy or electric vehicles.

“It’s flat. It’s easy to build on,” he said of the city’s land. “We’re just waiting for the right client.”

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