Monday, May 12, 2008

Midwest Monday: Coal Plant Dealt Death Blow

Big Stone II is - was - a coal plant proposed for Milbank, South Dakota, just two miles from the Minnesota border. The pulverized coal plant's power was meant for Minnesota but utility investors had to build it in SD because of MN's more stringent mercury pollution laws.

Opponents have fought the $1.6 billion plant for years, both on the SD and MN side of the border. While SD had approved the permits to build the plant, power lines still had to be build through southwestern Minnesota to carry the power from Big Stone II into the state. This is where MN advocates have most recently focused their fight: on permitting the construction of the power lines. No power lines, no power, no coal plant.

Last week, two administrative law judges in Minnesota delivered the coal plant a major blow. They recommended against the construction of the power lines in Minnesota because the regional power companies building the plant did not prove that the transmission lines were needed and because they failed to show that less expensive efficiency efforts and additional renewable energy could not meet the demand. They judges also noted that the utilities significantly underestimated likely future costs associated with global warming pollution.

While utility investors have been dropping out of the project for the last several months because of financial risks associated the coal plant's global warming pollution, this recommendation is a major victory for clean energy in the Upper Midwest. Big Stone II representatives'
response to the recommendation was:
"We're really perplexed by this. We really don't know what to make of it."
Next step: The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will hear Big Stone II's case in June. The PUC - appointed by Governor Pawlenty (R) - has the final say about permitting the power lines. However, one clean energy advocate told me that it would be "almost impossible" for the PUC to ignore the judges' recommendation at this point.

In fact, even Governor Pawlenty's Department of Commerce agrees that the carbon price the Big Stone II utilities used to justifying building the plant was too low. In addition, Commerce said the actually additional energy needed was less than half of what the Big Stone II developers were requesting.

Star Tribune and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

No comments: