Coalition files appeal in Big Stone II case

Coalition files appeal in Big Stone II case A coalition of clean energy and environmental groups filed an appeal of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's approval of transmission lines for the dirty coal-fired Big Stone II power plant. The case was filed with the Minnesota Court of Appeals by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy along with Fresh Energy, Izaak Walton League of America, Union of Concerned Scientists and Wind on the Wires. In January, the commission voted unanimously to grant a certificate of need for two power lines to bring nearly half of the electricity from the proposed power plant just across Big Stone Lake in South Dakota to customers in western and central Minnesota. In the appeal, MCEA lawyer Beth Goodpaster said the commission erred in approving the certificate of need because: • It approved a joint application for the Big Stone II project even though not all of the utility companies involved were able to prove their need for the electricity or meet other requirements of  Minnesota law; • The utilities seeking to build the plant failed to prove they had maximized all cost-effective energy conservation and load management techniques, as required by law, before choosing to build a new coal-fired plant; • Experts hired by the commission, the Minnesota Office of Energy Security and the clean energy and environmental groups all concluded it was impossible to tell if Big Stone II was the least expensive way of providing electricity given the utilities biased method of cost analysis. "The Public Utilities Commission has turned Minnesota's certificate-of-need law on its head by allowing the Big Stone utilities to proceed with a dirty coal-fired project without meeting the statutory requirements," Goodpaster said. The utilities, led by Otter Tail Power Co., first proposed a 630-megawatt plant. In 2007, two Minnesota power companies, including Great River Energy, dropped out of the coalition. The utilities returned with a new plan for a 580 or 500 megawatt plant. The five organizations fighting the coal-fired plant have argued from the beginning that besides releasing more of the conventional air pollutants, the Big Stone II plant would be a major contributor of global warming pollution by putting more than four million tons per year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. "This case was really about the wisdom of investing in a high carbon option like Big Stone II at a time when most people recognize the need to make investments in clean energy alternatives instead," said Bill Grant, associate executive director of Izaak Walton League of America. "Utility investors and ratepayers will be on the hook for this last-century power plant unless the Minnesota PUC's decision is reversed." Last year, two administrative law judges looked at all of the evidence and recommended to the utilities commission that it deny the certificate of need. The commission instead hired an independent expert whose conclusions closely mirrored that of the expert retained by the clean energy and environmental groups. As a result, the Big Stone II opponents were hoping Minnesota would join a growing number of states that have turned their back on the higher costs and damaging global warming pollution from coal-fired plants. Regulatory commissions in Florida,  North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin all voted down coal plants in the past year. Utilities, including Xcel Energy in Colorado and Minnesota, have voluntarily moved away from coal. Besides Otter Tail Power, the utilities backing the Big Stone II proposal are Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Heartland Consumers Power District, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency/Missouri River Energy Services.

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