Press Release: Fight continues to stop Wisconsin fracked gas power plant despite Minnesota Supreme Court decision
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 4/21/2021
St. Paul, Minnesota – The Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday issued a decision that allows a proposed fracked gas power plant to receive Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval without environmental review in Minnesota. The decision returns the case to the Court of Appeals to determine whether approving the plant is in the public interest. The plant, a joint venture between Minnesota Power in Minnesota and Dairyland Power in Wisconsin, would be constructed in Superior, Wisconsin, but requires Minnesota PUC approval due to the partnership with Minnesota Power.
The proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC) had been blocked by a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling which found that the PUC erred when it signed off on the plant without first studying the environmental impacts the 625-megawatt plant would have in Minnesota.
The case will now be remanded to the lower court to determine whether Minnesota Power has sufficiently proved that the plant is necessary, an issue the Court of Appeals stayed deciding until the Supreme Court reached its decision on the need for environmental review.
The disappointing decision does not change the glaring problems with a $700 million investment in a fracked gas-fueled power plant, which not only flies in the face of Minnesota’s critical climate reduction goals but furthermore is unnecessary to meet future energy demands. In 2018, an Administrative Law Judge found that the gas plant would be more expensive than clean alternatives and therefore should not be approved.
We welcome the opportunity to make that case before the Court of Appeals, and will continue to push for robust alternatives to the ill-conceived proposal in the Integrated Resource Plan process currently underway at the PUC. Instead of putting customers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars for dirty fuel infrastructure, Minnesota Power should be investing in cheaper solar and wind power.
“Regardless of this decision, Minnesota Power needs to move much faster to 100% clean energy, and that means moving on from the NTEC proposal,” said Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy attorney Evan Mulholland. “We will never stop working for clean, affordable, renewable energy for all Minnesotans.”
“This shortsighted ruling doesn’t change what Minnesotans know is right,” said Linda Herron, Sierra Club volunteer leader and Minnesota Power customer. “Minnesota needs 100% clean and renewable energy to lower energy costs for communities and to protect our air, land, and water. We must build a just and equitable energy system that addresses the climate crisis, and we must act swiftly to meet our climate goals. Regardless of what the Minnesota Supreme Court says, Minnesota Power and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have the opportunity to revisit this decision to ensure customers like me aren’t on the hook for risky spending that endangers their health.”
“In a week devoted to international climate discussions and Earth Day, it’s tragic that the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed state agencies to force Minnesotans to spend over $1 billion on a polluting gas-fired power plant without needing to comply with the state’s environmental review laws. The court has now allowed the PUC to avoid a full environmental review, including analysis of cleaner, less expensive renewable energy alternatives. The decision supports business-as-usual commitments to expensive fossil fuel infrastructure,” says Winona LaDuke, Executive Director and co-founder of Honor the Earth. “Honor the Earth and all aligned with carbon-free energy will continue to oppose the unnecessary expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure when we are in a climate crisis.”
"Minnesotans deserve a full assessment of cleaner energy options that don't emit dangerous carbon pollution and are less expensive than fossil fuels,” said James Gignac, lead Midwest energy analyst from Union of Concerned Scientists.
The PUC’s 3-2 vote to approve the power plant disregarded an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the Commission rule against the proposed plant. In July 2018, administrative law judge Jeanne M. Cochrane recommended that the PUC deny Minnesota Power’s request to build the gas power plant in Superior, finding that it was not “needed and reasonable.” 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.
The project still faces legal hurdles in Wisconsin, where the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin have sought review of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s authorization of the plant, which they say will destroy wetlands and cause significant upstream release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere that the Commission did not consider
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 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 Honor the Earth
Our mission is to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media, and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard. For more information about Honor The Earth, visit https://www.honorearth.org/line_3_factsheet
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.