The city of Becker has more than a passing interest in the future of a big swath of land surrounding the largest power plant in the state.
At issue is Xcel Energy’s Sherco plant, a three-unit, 2,500-megawatt coal-fired operation at 13999 Industrial Blvd. in Becker, a Sherburne County city of 5,000 located about 46 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Xcel says it plans to close all three units of the Sherco plant by 2030 and build a new 460-megawatt solar facility as part of its transition to clean energy.
Surrounding the Sherco Plant is an expansive buffer area, which is up for new development. The city hopes to attract new job-creating uses to make up for the 300 jobs that will go away when the Sherco plant shuts down.
The city of Becker and Xcel Energy are looking at future development opportunities with help from an Alternative Urban Areawide Review, or AUAR, a 347-page planning document released Tuesday.
Finance & Commerce reached out to Xcel Energy on Thursday for comment.
The AUAR focuses on nearly 2,200 acres of land around the Sherco plant, including 1,640 acres in the city of Becker and 537 acres in Becker Township. The study area is wedged between Highway 53 on the west and Highway 10 on the north and east.
No specific projects or “end users” have been identified, the AUAR notes. Google has teased plans to build a $600 million data center next to the Sherco plant, but nearly four years after those plans were unveiled, the project has yet to move forward.
For its part, the AUAR examines two scenarios with “varying magnitudes of industrial development” ranging from data centers to light manufacturing.
“Scenario A” calls for 2,023 acres of industrial uses, including light manufacturing (29%), warehousing (25%) and industrial park (23%). “Scenario B” envisions a mix of light industrial (32%), warehousing (25%) and industrial park (22%) development on 1,989 acres.
Big-picture-wise, Xcel and the city “intend to develop this land and study growth options for land uses that can benefit from the existing infrastructure, support economic development, and replace some of the tax base that will be lost when the Sherco plant closes,” the AUAR notes.
Jacob Sanders, Becker’s community development director, said the timing of development depends on the market. Xcel is actively marketing properties, and the city has a few shovel-ready sites on the southeast side, he added.
“A lot of it is already zoned industrial,” Sanders said in an interview. “We would love to develop all of it. There are some infrastructure pieces that we’re working on in order to serve the entire area.”
At least some development-related infrastructure work is already happening.
As part of an effort to grease the skids for new development including the possible Google data center the 2020 state Legislature awarded $20.5 million for sewer and water infrastructure to serve the buffer area, Sanders said.
The infrastructure work started last summer.
“They’ve got a lot in the ground already, continuing up on the west side of where the Google site would be and then starting to go toward the county road on the north side,” Sanders said. “So, it’s starting to loop a lot of these bigger industrial-zoned parcels together.”
Sanders said the city is taking comments on the AUAR through Dec. 29. Next, the city will make any needed revisions, circle back to stakeholders for additional comments, and consider the AUAR for final adoption.
The city has long taken a keen interest in the Sherco plant and its surrounding area.
In 2019, Greg Pruszinske Becker’s city administrator at the time -- said in a statement that the plant accounts for 75% of the city’s tax base, contributes “hundreds of jobs,” and is “central to our community’s identity.”
“Without support from the state and other stakeholders, the massive loss of tax base and jobs [stemming from the plant’s closing] will be borne by our local residents and businesses,” Pruszinske added.
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