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Groups urge PUC to deny power plant plans

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is coming to Duluth this week to weigh in on the future of a proposed 700-million dollar power plant in Superior.

Several groups are protesting that plan, calling for the PUC to deny the project.

Those who oppose the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center, including members of the Sierra Club, MN Interfaith Power and Light, and MN Citizens Federation, say they have three main reasons for their opposition, starting with uncertainty over potential rate hikes.

“We are not that well off compared to the Twin Cities, or the other parts of the state. This kind of rate increase – we don’t how much they said, how much it will be – but it could be significant for a long period of time,” says Buddy Robinson, a member of the Minnesota Citizens Federation Northeast.

They also say the process of extracting natural gas, known as “fracking,” threatens people’s health, and the climate.

“We know that natural gas, while burning cleaner than other fossil fuels, releases large amounts of methane into the air during its extraction and transportation in particular,” says Bret Pence, of the Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, “and methane is a greenhouse gas over 50 times more potent that carbon dioxide.”

The plant is a joint effort between Minnesota Power, and Dairyland Power Cooperative.

“We have a real need for this energy, because at the same time we’re adding more renewable energy to our system,” says Amy Rutledge, Corporate Communications member for Minnesota Power, “but we need to have an energy resource where our customers flip the switch [and] the power is there when they need it.”

While natural gas is a fossil fuel, company spokespeople say it would still help them on their mission toward cleaner, cheaper energy.

“And natural gas helps balance renewable energy on a system. The wind isn’t always blowing, and the sun isn’t always shining. You need to have an energy source that you can rely on,” added Rutledge.

Superior city leaders have said the project would increase the city’s tax base by about $1 million dollars.

“We really feel that our “Energy Forward” strategy is the best way to get there,” says Rutledge. “We’ll be adding more renewable energy, we’re already at 30 percent renewable energy on our system. A little over a decade [ago] we were at 95 percent coal based energy. Now were at 30 [percent]. And in the year 2025 we expect to be at 44 percent renewable energy.”

In July, an Administrative Law Judge ruled the plant is not only not needed, it’s not even in the public interest.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Commerce has recommended the PUC approve the plant.

The PUC will make a final decision Thursday morning, at 9:30, at Duluth City Hall.

Minnesota agencies are heavily involved in the project, because Minnesota Power is a Minnesota based company.

Neil Vierzba

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