Green group pitches alternative vision for PolyMet site

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The non-profit says it wants to offer an alternative to the Polymet Mine. Polymet says it shares the group’s desire for a sustainable future, but the one of the first steps would be the responsible production of clean energy metals such as copper, nickel and cobalt that PolyMet’s NorthMet deposit.
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An environmental group fighting the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota has proposed an alternative vision for the site. The plan reimagines the site as a clean energy and manufacturing hub, one that includes a huge solar array, wind turbines, and an energy storage facility that together could help power the creation of carbon-free steel on the Iron Range.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy unveiled the concept it calls “Sundog” this week, as an effort to spark conversations about what a different future could look like, said MCEA Chief Strategy Officer Aaron Klemz.

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The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy unveiled the concept for a 300-400 megawatt wind, solar and storage facility sited at the old LTV Erie plant site and tailings basin. The non-profit says it wants to offer an alternative to the controversial Polymet Mine proposal.
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“Because up to this point, there haven't been any alternatives,” said Klemz. “The choice has been either what's been put forward by PolyMet and their partners, or nothing.”

Klemz acknowledges there are major hurdles to the vision becoming reality, including the fact that the group doesn’t own the site. It would also require significant government and private investment.

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“And so we're conscious of the fact that this proposal is not so much a project as it is a vision,” Klemz continued. “But we also know that for a project to emerge, a vision has to start from somewhere.”

In a statement, PolyMet said it shared MCEA’s desire for a sustainable future. But the company also said that “one of the first steps in the transition to sustainability is the responsible production of the raw materials needed in the manufacture of clean energy technologies — clean energy metals like copper, nickel and cobalt that PolyMet’s NorthMet deposit will yield.”

PolyMet said it’s focused on getting its project “through the remaining pieces of litigation and under construction so we can feed that hungry supply chain.”

Earlier this week the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments on an attempt by the MCEA, other environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to cancel a key water quality permit that PolyMet needs to build its proposed mine.

PolyMet received all the state and federal permits it needs to build its controversial $1 billion open pit mine and processing plant about four years ago.

But since then the project has been tied up in litigation and regulatory proceedings. Two other key permits — the state permit to mine, and a federal wetlands permit — are also in limbo.

Klemz said his group plans to initiate a dialogue with potential partners and lawmakers about the proposed vision. He said initial conversations have been met with a mix of curiosity, interest and skepticism.

“And so we're excited to start these conversations in public now and see where they go.”