A big blow has been dealt to a proposed natural gas plant in Superior.
Judge Jeanne M. Cochran An Administrative Law Judge has ruled the $700-million proposed natural gas plant, known as Nemadji Trail Energy Center is not only not needed it’s not even in the public interest.
Fighting for ratepayers, The Minnesota Citizens Federation opposes the facility, and say they are happy with the ruling.
"It’s not surprising to me that she came in against the need for the power plant at this time," said Buddy Robinson, with the Minnesota Citizens Federation.
According to Minnesota Power’s website, the proposed 535-megawatt facility would generate power when other renewables like wind, and solar are not available. Despite concerns that the facility will burn fossil fuels, which experts say contribute to climate change, spokespeople say it will be cleaner than coal-fired plants. In addition, it will deliver affordable and reliable power to consumers in the region, according to the company.
In early 2018, The Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota who also opposes the plan conducted a phone poll of 552 Minnesota Power customers. Of those, 77 percent said they were "not inclined to support the plant," Larger users of Minnesota Power have also said they don’t support the plan.
"Customers, represented by groups like us, and the industrial customers – the big users of power – both said the need for this, that Minnesota Power claims, is not there," said Robins.
Conversely, the Mayor of Superior, Jim Paine, says the law judge’s decision doesn’t tell all.
"I think it was one-sided and didn’t take into account all of the facts or really all of the contexts of this project," said Paine.
Paine says this would be the biggest private investment in Superior’s history and investing in the natural gas plant is responsible.
"We support it because of it’s benefit to the electrical grid, and to our environment as well," said Paine.
Building the plant would be a job creator according to Paine, and would increase the city’s tax base by about $1-million. "That’s real money that we can do significant work with here, or return to the taxpayers," he said.
Minnesota Power has said the power plant would meet a certain energy need, and used on a need to use basis.
"Natural gas is a fossil fuel, it is not the perfect form of energy. It will not be the predominant form of energy in the state of Minnesota or Northern Wisconsin, as part of this project. It fills very small gaps that renewable energy currently can’t fill," said Paine.
Ultimately, the fate of project will be in the hands of the Minnesota PUC.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has already recommended the Public Utilities Commission approve the plant.
The plant is a joint effort between Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power Cooperative.
Minnesota agencies are heavily involved because Minnesota Power is a Minnesota based company.
Here is Minnesota Power’s full statement regarding the decision:
"We will be reviewing the details of the Administrative Law Judge’s report and recommendations over the next week. The ALJ’s recommendation is contrary to what the Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended in May that the MPUC approve the agreements. Minnesota Power is committed to our EnergyForward strategy that will provide safe and reliable energy for this region while increasing the use of cost-competitive renewable resources. With the addition of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, we are confident we will reach 44 percent renewable energy by 2025. We are proud of our track record – leading the state in implementation of renewable energy with a 30 percent renewable portfolio."
Meanwhile, several other agencies opposed to the plan are also weighing in on the decision:
“People in the region are concerned about their finances, and they don’t want their energy bills to go up to pay for a power plant unless it’s absolutely necessary,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, Executive Director of the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota, a nonprofit consumer advocate. “It looks like Judge Cochran agrees that there are more cost-effective options.”