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PA5721 Class Trip to Austin Utilities

On Friday, April 11th, a group of students from PA5721: Energy and Environmental Policy took a trip to southern Minnesota to tour one of the areas largest electric generators: the Austin Utilities Coal Plant. Director of Power and Water Production Patrick Lunn showed the group of six students around both the inside and outside of the facility, explaining the cycle of fuel, power and waste involved in making electricity.

The trip was a great opportunity for Humphrey students to get a real world look at what would otherwise only be found in a text book. By experiencing first hand the operation of a coal plant, one of the most polluting types of electric generators, the students gained awareness of the complexities in satisfying the nation's demand for cheap energy. Environmental health, financial stability and delivery reliability are all equal concerns for Lunn, as the municipal Austin Utilities searches for a replacement for the aging coal plant.

Coal plants have a typical life span of 50 years. As plants around the US age, operators are having to choose between reliable and cheap coal, and renewable energy such as wind and biomass. While renewable energy is much cleaner than coal, the economics of unproven technologies present uncertain risks to planners. Austin Utilities is currently exploring options to use biomass from the surrounding rural area as a clean additive to coal combustion.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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