Environmental groups are appealing a certificate of need approved last year by Minnesota regulators for Minnesota Power’s proposed $700 million natural gas plant in Superior.

In filings made through the Minnesota Court of Appeals Wednesday, several groups - Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists - argued the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission was wrong in its October 2018 approval of Duluth-based Minnesota Power’s proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center 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.

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The appeal is a continuation of a petition the groups made in February, the first step in the appeals process, but the petition was denied by the PUC last month.

"Minnesota has the opportunity to be a world leader for the new clean energy economy, turning our vast renewable resources into jobs all over the state. At this critical moment for the climate, it doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new fossil fuel power plant,” Kevin Lee, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said in a news release Thursday.d

Fresh Energy, which had signed the petition for reconsideration in February, was not included on the appeal. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the News Tribune Thursday afternoon.

Minnesota Power is planning to build the 550-megawatt plant with La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative between Enbridge Energy’s Superior Terminal and the Nemadji River. The plant proposal is currently being weighed by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Minnesota Power spokesperson Amy Rutledge said the company maintains that the natural gas “plant will help sustain our commitment to renewable resources by providing energy when renewable energy is not readily available and supporting additional renewable development.”

Allete posts first quarter earnings

Duluth-based Allete, Inc., the parent company of Minnesota Power, reported its first quarter 2019 earnings in a conference call with investors Thursday morning. The company reported $1.37 per share on net income of $70.5 million and operating revenue of $357.2 million.

Last year’s results were 99 cents per share on net income of $51.0 million and operating revenue of $358.2 million.

Compared to last year, Allete said the recent sale of U.S. Water Services resulted in a 19 cents per share gain in the first quarter of 2019.