Environmentalists lose effort to stall Big Stone II power plant

Big Stone Power plant
The Big Stone power plant in South Dakota. Several utilities have proposed building a second coal-fired power plant at this location.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

(AP) - The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has agreed to let partners move forward with their application to build two high-voltage power lines from the proposed Big Stone II coal-fired power plant planned near Milbank, S.D., to Granite Falls and Morris.

A final decision isn't expected until next year.

The five remaining partners in Big Stone II include Otter Tail Power Co. of Fergus Falls and Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency of Blue Earth.

Two other Minnesota companies - Elk River-based Great River Energy and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency in Rochester - both pulled out last month.

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The St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy led a coalition of environmentalists that lost an effort to force the project to start over from scratch. Had the Public Utilities Commission agreed, it could have delayed the process for months or even killed it.

The environmental groups believe the plant's carbon dioxide emissions would contribute to global warming and argue that there are less-costly alternatives for energy production, such as wind energy or natural gas plants.

The environmental groups had argued the project should resubmit its application after the two Minnesota utilities dropped out because changing the size of the project may change the transmission requirements.

Project managers said a significant delay could increase the cost, which was estimated at $1.6 billion before Great River Energy and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency pulled out.

Originally, the plant was planned as a 630-megawatt facility, but that is under review because Great River Energy had been expected to use about 20 percent of the electricity the plant would produce.

In addition to the two Minnesota utilities, the remaining partners include Heartland Consumers Power District, Madison, S.D.; Missouri River Energy Services, Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., Bismarck, N.D.

With fewer partners, attorneys for the project said Big Stone II could now be a 500- to 580-megawatt facility. The partners are expected to submit their revised plans by Nov. 5.

However, Big Stone attorney Todd Guerrero told the commission that transmission lines still would be needed, even with a smaller plant.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)