Minnesota regulators on Thursday said the former owner of the Duluth paper mill must honor its existing contract and continue making payments to Minnesota Power, even with the mill under new ownership.

The five-member Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously agreed that Verso is responsible for making the payments through January 2023. The Ohio-based paper company had argued that since it sold the mill, it should be off the hook for the minimum payments because Minnesota Power has entered into a separate electric service agreement with the new owner, ST Paper.

Minnesota Power had countered that claim, arguing it would miss out on "millions of dollars" if the payments weren't made and would need to recoup that money from other customers in an upcoming rate increase, company officials told the News Tribune in August.

Amy Rutledge, a spokesperson for Minnesota Power, said Thursday that the company was "pleased" with the PUC's decision.

Other large power customers, namely taconite plants, are under similar electric service agreements that require them to make minimum payments so that ratepayers don't need to shoulder the bill if the plant were to idle or slow production and suddenly stop buying large amounts of power from Minnesota Power.

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"Contracts for larger customers are in place to help protect our customers and our company for planning for and serving especially large loads on the electric system," Rutledge said in an email to the News Tribune.

"(Minnesota Power) was not asking the Commission to order Verso pay damages, for which jurisdiction belongs in the courts." Rutledge said.

Verso did not immediately respond to a call or email seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

In the most recent briefing filed with the PUC, Ohio-based Verso maintained its accusation that Minnesota Power was trying to "double collect" from two separate companies at the same facility.

"It is patently unfair for Verso to be required to continue paying for electricity at the Duluth Mills under the Electric Service Agreement (ESA) when it no longer owns that facility and Minnesota Power has already acquired a new customer for that same facility, " Brian Potts, an attorney representing Verso wrote in a briefing last month.

Verso's Duluth mill produced supercalendered paper until it closed in June 2020. ST Paper bought the mill in May and plans to produce tissue there.

ST Paper's purchase of the mill from Verso did not include the remainder of Verso's power contract, and its own electric service agreement with Minnesota Power is smaller than Verso's, Minnesota Power said in August.