Proposed natural gas plant in Superior dealt setback in Minnesota

Updated: 6:50 p.m. | Posted: 5:23 p.m.

Minnesota Power's plan to team up with the Dairyland Power Cooperative to build a 525- to 550-megawatt natural gas plant in Superior, Wis., failed on Monday to get an administrative law judge's blessing.

Minnesota Power must go to Minnesota utility regulators to enter into such an agreement because its customers could end up paying for the plant through electricity rates. The first step in that process is presenting its case before an administrative law judge.

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On Monday the judge, Jeanne Cochran, said the commission should issue an order denying Minnesota Power's request because the utility "has not demonstrated that these affiliated interest agreements are consistent with the public interest."

Minnesota Power had reasoned that the gas plant was needed to provide backup for wind energy the utility is adding to its system, but the judge said the utility's analysis was biased.

Minnesota Power said in a statement that it will be reviewing the judge's recommendation that the PUC not agree to the company's request. "With the addition of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, we are confident we will reach 44 percent renewable energy by 2025." The utility adds it has 30 percent renewable energy in its portfolio currently.

Many environmental and consumer groups had opposed the plant, and some Minnesota politicians were unhappy the plant would be built in Wisconsin rather than in Minnesota.

A group of environmental groups said in a statement Monday that the PUC should act as Administrative Law Judge Cochran recommended and reject the facility.

"Approval of this fossil fuel plant would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Minnesota to meet its emissions reductions targets set in state law" said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy.

The administrative law judge's findings are not binding, but they do indicate the possibility that the PUC will find similar shortcomings with the plan.