Minnesota Power Awaits Minnesota Supreme Court Decision on Wisconsin Natural Gas Plant
The Minnesota Supreme Court held oral arguments this week in the case of Minnesota Power, a Duluth-based company, and Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative’s $700 million natural gas plant. Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power Cooperative, a La Crosse-based company, had come together with a plan to build a natural gas plant on a plot of land between Enbridge Energy’s Superior terminal and the Nemadji River, in Superior, Wisconsin. The natural gas plant is expected to produce between 525 and 625 megawatts of power and will serve parts of Wisconsin, as well as parts of Northern and Central Minnesota.
Wisconsin and Minnesota regulators had already approved the plans for the plant, but the Minnesota company and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have faced some backlash from environmental groups. When the Public Utilities Commission approved Minnesota Power’s stake in the plant, environmental groups, such as the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals ruled in December 2019 that further environmental review was needed prior to approval of the plans.
In January 2020, Minnesota Power and the Public Utilities Commission appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court on the grounds that Minnesota’s environmental protection laws do not apply to the commission’s decision to approve “affiliate-interest” agreements, such as the agreement that allows Minnesota Power to draw power from the new plant. The decision as to whether the companies may actually build the plant rests entirely with Wisconsin regulators, who have approved the project.
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is concerned with the burdensome precedent the Minnesota Supreme Court may set by upholding the Court of Appeals decision, thereby requiring environmental review of a project located outside the state. Environmental groups, on the other hand, argue that Minnesota Power and the Public Utilities Commission are exaggerating the burden the appeals court ruling presents. Environmental groups allege that the public, Minnesota state agencies, and the companies involved will fully understand the environmental effects of the proposed plant only if the court upholds the ruling.
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision is expected to come down mid-2021.