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Wisconsin regulators won't consider climate change impacts of proposed Superior natural gas plant

Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted to narrow scope of study on Nemadji Trail Energy Center

Nemadji Trail Energy Center
Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power Cooperative have proposed a $700 million natural-gas power plant, Nemadji Trail Energy Center, which would be located near the Husky refinery in Superior and provide between 525 and 625 megawatts of power. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power)
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When Wisconsin's energy regulators take a look at the $700 million natural gas power plant Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power Cooperative want to build in Superior, they won't consider impacts on climate change.

That's someone else's job, the Public Service Commission ruled in a 3-0 vote last month to limit the scope of their proceedings on the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, as the proposed plant is called.

"What we saw here was an attempt to have the commission engage in a public policy issue that just isn’t in our purview,” Commissioner Mike Huebsch said at the June 27 meeting, according to the PSC and Wisconsin State Journal, which first reported the decision.

An administrative law judge previously said the commission "can look at the environmental impacts of the emissions from the plant," since the state Department of Natural Resources doesn't regulate carbon emissions, according to PSC filings, though he ultimately left it up to the commission.

The utilities wrote that state law gives the DNR authority over air pollution and that keeping it there would stop the permitting process from becoming "like a dog trying to catch its tail but being unable to do so," according to a filing with the PSC.

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The Sierra Club, which is opposing the plant, had urged the commission to consider climate impacts above and beyond immediate air pollution concerns

"The public deserves to know the negative environmental impacts a fracked gas plant would have on Minnesota and Wisconsin, including the release of greenhouse gasses," said Rebecca Kling, a regional spokesperson for the group. "When it comes to climate change, the stakes are too high for these commissions to stay silent."

Minnesota regulators voted 3-2 in October to allow the plant to move forward.

Minnesota Power has said that "renewable-enabling" sources of power like natural gas are needed to balance the grid when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing and that it is continuing to increase its portfolio of renewable energy.

If approved, the utilities hope to bring the 525-625 megawatt plant online in 2025. It would sit on a plot of land between the Enbridge terminal and Nemadji River.

Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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