Minnesota PUC to examine Summit Carbon’s CO2 pipeline project

Commission will consider scope of environmental review

A Highwater Ethanol plant employee works
A Highwater Ethanol plant employee works on an incoming truck of corn on Aug. 30 in rural Lamberton, Minn. Highwater is one of five ethanol plants in Minnesota, and among 32 in the Midwest, already committed to the carbon pipeline project.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News/Jackson Forderer

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will consider the state’s first carbon capture pipeline project application Thursday.  

Summit Carbon Solutions filed for a permit in September for a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline in Otter Tail and Wilkin counties in Northwest Minnesota. It would connect the Green Plains ethanol plant at Fergus Falls with a network of pipelines.

It is part of a $4.5 billion project to collect carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol plants in Minnesota and surrounding states and store the CO2 underground in North Dakota. 

The commission will discuss whether Summit’s application is complete. Members will also discuss requesting an environmental assessment worksheet, which might lead to a more detailed environmental impact statement. The PUC had also been gathering public comment on the project. 

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Landowners, tribal communities and environmental groups rallied against the proposal, voicing concerns about possible impacts on farmland, and water sources, and to nearby communities.  

Precedent setting

The PUC claimed regulatory authority over the carbon pipelines in 2022, but this is the first application to come before it.  

Hudson Kingston, staff attorney for PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) said the PUC’s decisions in the application will set a precedent for how Minnesota will regulate carbon pipelines for carbon storage in the future. 

“It certainly is the beginning of a process and not the end,” Kingston said. “But, beginnings matter quite a lot. The fact that this is the only application before the commission right now indicates that it is a test case.” He said what the PUC decides “is going to send a big signal about how much environmental review and how seriously we’re going to look at these projects moving forward.”

Summit only requested a permit for northwest Minnesota’s part of the pipeline. It would run west of Fergus Falls into North Dakota. Another part of the pipeline is planned in west-central and southern Minnesota which then connects to the main trunk in Iowa. 

That leg of the pipeline would run through Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Martin, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties.

Overall, the project proposes about 2,000 miles of pipeline connecting 32 ethanol plants to transport sequestered carbon into an underground storage site somewhere in North Dakota. 

The meeting is at 10 a.m. in St. Paul. Those interested in attending the hearing virtually can view it on webcast or listen by phone.