On Monday, Oct. 28, I testified against the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center at a public hearing in Superior hosted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. I presented evidence that the fossil-fueled plant would quickly become a stranded asset — not unlike the portfolio of investments in other fossil-fuel resources (representing a $121 trillion set of stranded resources).
I testified that putting the required halt to the use of fossil fuels to stave off greater climate catastrophe represents an economic challenge with which the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank are currently stymied.
It is a fact that even without climate concern, the investment in any new fossil-fuel asset is dubious at best. Renewable-energy resources combined with energy storage are currently the lower-cost alternative.
Business magazines testify to this. Forbes in May reported that, “The cost of renewable energy has tumbled even further over the past year, to the point where almost every source of green energy can now compete on cost with oil, coal and gas-fired power plants.”
Current power-purchase agreements in solar-plus-storage offer the lowest cost of energy currently. As a shareholder, I raised this issue with my utility, Minnesota Power, at its annual shareholders’ meeting.
The CEO and board are ignoring the facts of today’s real energy-market costs. Current contracts show this as a fact.
According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, low-cost nuclear costs $102 per megawatt hour, or MWh; low-cost coal costs $56 per MWh; low-cost natural gas costs $34 per MWh; and low-cost solar-plus-storage costs less than $27 per MWh.
Additionally, recent reporting in the utility trade magazine Utility Dive has underlined that this is today’s reality.
“Renewables, storage poised to undercut natural gas prices, increase stranded assets,” the magazine reported in September, attributing the claim to the Rocky Mountain Institute. “If all proposed gas plants are built, 70% of those investments will be rendered uneconomic by 2035.”
Finally, Minnesota’s own utility regulators unanimously ruled this as today’s reality, too. “Minnesota rejects Xcel's 720 MW Mankato gas plant purchase over stranded asset concerns,” a Utility Drive headline read on Oct. 1. The story stated: “Minnesota regulators on Friday unanimously rejected Xcel Minnesota's proposal to purchase a 720 MW natural gas plant, citing concerns the plant could close early and leave customers with hundreds of millions of dollars in stranded asset costs.”
Clearly, today’s real energy market portends that any investment in new fossil-fuel assets is doomed to be stranded and to create a huge loss for investors, the public, and our future.
This $700 million spending plan for a Nemadji Trail Energy Center is currently a boondoggle of tremendous proportions — even without any concern for the climate, local water resources, tribal community rights, the known hazards of fracking technology, and hope for our collective future.
We need to create good local jobs by spending the $700 million on the rapid deployment of solar, wind, and energy-storage systems regionwide.
Economics alone demands we recognize this reality.
Christopher LaForge is a certified master trainer in photovoltaic technologies at Great Northern Solar in Port Wing. He also regularly teaches an in-depth, six-week online course called “Batteries in Solar PV Systems.”