The city of Oak Park Heights recently hosted legislators from around Minnesota to request $5.1 million in the next state bonding bill to pay for water and sewer connections and other costs associated with preparing for the closure of Xcel Energy’s Allen S. King generating plant.
After the coal-fired plant closes in 2028, the city where it sits could lose 35 percent of its property tax revenue.
“It will be a tremendous hit to the city when it finally closes,” said mayor Mary McComber, in a presentation at city hall. “There are some people that say restore it to natural habitat, which unfortunately does not pay taxes.”
So leaders are seeking to redevelop the 170-acre site to help replace that tax revenue, among other goals. Preliminary discussions so far have been around two possibilities: industrial and commercial, or residential and mixed use.
Both ideas would need basic infrastructure. The site currently is served by a couple small private wells and a small sewer lift station.
“The consensus pretty much is it should be multi-use, to replace the approximately 100 jobs that will be lost when the plant closes,” McComber said. “To provide recreation along the river, jobs, housing, all the things that we can possibly try to build back that tax base.”
The closure is still seven years away, with up to five years possibly needed for demolition. But McComber said they want to be proactive. She pointed to the example of the city of Granite Falls, where a power plant closed and sat vacant for 15 years, saying Oak Park Heights is trying to avoid that.
“The fact that it’s going to be closing, and it is fairly soon, there are things that need to be done,” said Rep. Shelly Christensen. “Infrastructure things: water, sewer, all that kind of stuff to bring it back so that it’s something the city can enjoy.”
City engineer Lee Mann said the city will also work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove some parts of the site from government flood maps. He said it’s a matter of making on-the-ground reality match the maps, which will also help with redevelopment.
Xcel Energy announced in 2019 that the plant would close within 10 years. The 550 megawatts of power generated by burning coal will be replaced with wind and solar. Xcel plans to keep the nearby substation to carry renewable energy to the community.