By Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune
Updated: 12:52 p.m.
Minnesota regulators must consider whether a proposed natural gas plant in Superior could have "significant environmental effects" before allowing the project to proceed, the state Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
The decision reverses the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's October 2018 approval of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center and sends it back to the agency for further review.
Duluth-based Minnesota Power is proposing to build the 550-megawatt plant with La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative on a plot of land between Enbridge Energy's Superior terminal and the Nemadji River.
The utility company maintains that the plant would supplement its push for more renewable energy sources "when the wind isn't blowing and sun isn't shining" and lessen the company's dependence on coal.
But several groups contended that the Minnesota PUC was wrong in its approval of the plant because the agency denied an environmental review of the project, the state should give preference to emission-free power plants and the company did not show the plant was needed.
The appeals court said Monday that state law requires the preparation of an environmental assessment worksheet when a citizen petition "demonstrates that, because of the nature or location of the action proposed in the agreement, there may be potential for significant environmental effects."
The three-judge panel unanimously sent the case back to the PUC to consider whether that review is needed. An environmental assessment worksheet is a brief document designed to lay out the basic facts of a project necessary to determine if a full environmental impact statement is required for the proposed project.
The project is also being considered by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which is weighing whether the plant "satisfies the reasonable needs of the public for an adequate supply of electric energy," its "design and location or route is in the public interest" and "will not have undue adverse impact on other environmental values." A decision is expected in 2020.
Minnesota Power spokesperson Amy Rutledge has said that the "plant will help sustain our commitment to renewable resources by providing energy when renewable energy is not readily available and supporting additional renewable development."
This is a developing story.