Press Release: MN Appeals Court upholds NTEC financial agreements
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 8/23/2021
St. Paul, Minnesota – The Minnesota Court of Appeals today upheld Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval of financial agreements for the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC) fracked gas power plant, but litigants in the case will continue to push to block the development of the plant.
Clean Energy Organizations (“CEOs”), including Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists filed the appeal, and were joined by Honor the Earth who was separately represented. The plant, a joint venture between Minnesota Power in Minnesota and Dairyland Power in Wisconsin, is proposed for Superior, Wisconsin. It required Minnesota PUC approval because Minnesota Power sought to make ratepayers responsible for costs related to its operation and construction.
The ruling is disappointing for ratepayers, local residents and people who care about our shared climate. The CEOs are currently reviewing the decision and will make a decision on next steps in this specific appeal in the coming weeks. But the proposal faces additional legal challenges. In July, MCEA, Sierra Club, Honor the Earth and Clean Wisconsin filed a separate petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that challenges the absence of climate change impacts in the environmental review of a federally-subsidized loan for Dairyland Power’s portion of NTEC. This petition is currently pending. In addition, NTEC is still facing legal challenges and has not yet received all necessary approvals from the State of Wisconsin.
The recently released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed that we cannot meet our climate goals while constructing new fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin deserve clean, renewable energy instead of a climate-polluting gas power plant that will stand for decades.
The CEOs have consistently said that Minnesota Power needs to adopt clean, renewable energy at a faster pace. Xcel Energy Minnesota recently dropped a proposed combined-cycle gas power plant in Becker because additional renewable energy was cheaper and better for the climate. Minnesota Power should follow suit. Our climate crisis demands it, and their consumers are demanding clean energy and the cost savings that come with it.
“This decision may have upheld Minnesota Power’s financial agreements, but it does not show that a $700 million investment in fracked gas infrastructure is right or wise. It's difficult to comprehend how building a new gas plant that will create significant greenhouse gas pollution for decades in the middle of a climate crisis best serves the public interest,” said Stephanie Fitzgerald, staff attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
“This disappointing ruling doesn’t change the facts: Our Twin Ports communities simply cannot afford to burn more fossil fuels in the midst of the ongoing climate crisis,” said Jenna Yeakle, Duluth Organizing Representative with the Sierra Club. “At minimum, a new fracked gas power plant, proposed in part by Minnesota Power and with plans to provide power to Minnesota ratepayers, deserves environmental and regulatory oversight from Minnesota policymakers. Even if we could put aside the many public health and environmental justice reasons to oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure, it is grossly unfair to expect Minnesotans to pay for a fracked gas power plant that will soon be obsolete. Rather than move us towards the clean energy future that Minnesotans want and deserve, this ruling takes a huge step backwards.”
“This ruling is disappointing since Minnesotans deserve cleaner energy options that don't emit dangerous carbon pollution and are less expensive than fossil fuels,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst from Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Court of Appeals decision followed a Minnesota Supreme Court decision on another portion of the appeal, which remanded the case back to the lower court. The Minnesota PUC voted 3-2 in 2018 to approve the plant despite Administrative Law Judge Jeanne M. Cochrane’s recommendation that the Commission rule against the proposed plant. Large industrial customers (including mines and paper mills) and consumer groups had also opposed the construction of the new gas fired power plant on the grounds that it is too expensive and will unnecessarily raise electrical rates for Minnesota Power customers. .
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
About the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
For nearly half a century, MCEA has worked to enact and enforce smart environmental laws in Minnesota. With offices in St. Paul and Duluth and a team that includes some of the state's foremost environmental law and policy professionals, MCEA educates about issues and supports communities in their fight to protect their environment. MCEA is unique in Minnesota in its use of top legal expertise in the pursuit of environmental justice. For more information, visit www.mncenter.org
About the Union of Concerned Scientists
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.