ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a bill allowing Xcel Energy to build a natural gas power plant in Becker to make up for some of the capacity it loses when it retires two of its three coal-fired generators at its Sherco power plant there.

Xcel and Becker-area lawmakers say the gas plant will cushion the blow by preserving about 150 jobs and creating construction jobs.

The bill signed Tuesday lets Xcel skip the normal route of needing to gain approval from the Public Utilities Commission, which declined last year to commit to the natural gas plant when it approved Xcel's plan to retire the two oldest coal units at Sherco.

Critics called the legislation an end-run around the PUC, and wanted regulators to require Xcel to look at cleaner alternatives.

A third coal burning power plant at the Sherco facility, which is co-owned by Xcel Energy and the Rochester based Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, will continue operating. 

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