Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Hearing On Proposed Natural Gas Plant

DULUTH, Minn. – The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) heard arguments from both sides regarding a natural gas power plant in Superior.

Minnesota Power believes it’s the right time to build the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC).

No final decision is expected for a while, but that didn’t stop people from showing up to learn more about where this project stands.

The saga continues for the future of NTEC.

The Council Chambers at Duluth City Hall was packed and it was standing room only.

Opponents of the gas plant believe it is not needed at this time.

One attorney was there on behalf of Large Power Intervenors (LPI).

“The commission needs to consider whether this record justifies and whether there’s sufficient urgency to make a $350 million decision on behalf of Minnesota’s Power ratepayers outside of normal resource planning process,” said Sarah Johnson Phillips of Stoel Rives LLP.

That view was also supported by recent recommendations of Administrative Law Judge Jeanne Cochran.

Opponents also believe the gas plant has too many risks and they want the commission to deny the request for approval.

“Ultimately LPI believes that the company has not met its goal in or order to show that NTEC is needed or reasonable or that it’s in the public interest,” said Johnson Phillips.

There’s a lot of interest in this proposal.

If approved, the plant would be built in Superior and Dairyland Cooperative would split the $700 million with Minnesota Power.

“This is something that we take seriously along with our commitment to our customers to provide them the safer and reliable energy they need and expect every day,” said Minnesota Power Communications Manager Amy Rutledge.

Staff from Minnesota Power tell us it’s not every day the MPUC comes to Duluth to decide on such an important issue as it looks to further its path to cleaner energy.

Minnesota Power has two main goals with building this facility and hopes the plant can open by 2025.

“It will provide for greater energy diversity on our system. It’ll do it in a cost competitive way, but it will also provide a back up and a supplement to the wind and solar we have on our system for when the renewable energy is not available,” said Rutledge.

Earlier this week the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board determined no decision can be made about approval for building this plant until the MPUC decides if there’s a need for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, a process that makes sure potential environmental effects are disclosed.

This is stemming from a petition brought up by Honor the Earth.

“That’s why this is not an easy case and that’s why I’m trying to look at this in a broader context,” said Commissioner Dan Lipschultz. “I don’t know if that will necessarily determine our decision, but it will help inform it, because even though we make decisions case by case. All our decisions, as you know, are ultimately connected.”

The petition will be addressed at an agenda meeting on October 29th.

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