Clean Energy Organizations also urge for earlier retirement of utility’s coal and biomass plants
Sarah Horner, MCEA, firstname.lastname@example.org, 612-868-3024
Jo Olson, Fresh Energy, email@example.com
Renner Barsella, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelley Welf, Clean Grid Alliance, email@example.com
SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA – In their reply comment filed Monday, Clean Energy Organizations (CEOs) emphasized the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as the latest in a long list of reasons the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission should cancel Minnesota Power’s plan to build the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, an unnecessary and harmful $700 million fossil fuel gas plant proposed in the utility company’s long-range energy plan for construction in the Duluth-Superior area.
The newly passed federal legislation makes wind, solar, and battery storage significantly more affordable and also dramatically increases the United States’ investment in renewable energy so that the country can move away from natural gas and other fossil fuels we know are exacerbating the climate crisis and harming people’s health and ways of life in Minnesota and across the globe.
Building a new climate-harming fossil gas plant on the heels of federal legislation expected to radically change the United States’ energy infrastructure is an imprudent use of ratepayer money.
In addition to the impacts of the IRA, CEOs – the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Sierra Club , Fresh Energy and Clean Grid Alliance – reiterated the reasons NTEC should not proceed, which were laid out in the group’s initial comment filed April 29 in the Minnesota Power Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) docket. Those reasons include:
- NTEC is not needed to meet energy demands. Using the same modeling tool as Minnesota Power, independent experts determined the utility could reliably meet future energy needs in its region by increasing investments in cleaner, safer and less financially risky renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and battery storage.
- NTEC is a bad investment for ratepayers and shareholders. Given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent findings that greenhouse gas pollution must be halved by 2030 to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, NTEC, which would increase climate pollution and has an estimated life-span of 40 years, is at high risk of becoming a stranded asset. The IRA adds to this likelihood.
- NTEC would harm human health and the climate. If built, NTEC is projected to emit up to 2.24 million tons of CO2 a year - the equivalent of driving 438,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles annually – placing the project in direct opposition to the demands of science. The plant’s real climate impacts are expected to be more than double that when nitrous oxide and upstream methane emissions associated with gas production, processing and transmission are taken into account.
- NTEC is out of alignment with climate goals outlined by President Biden and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, both of whom recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and the leading role the power sector must play in decarbonizing our economy.
“Minnesota Power is a public utility and has an obligation to re-evaluate whether an investment in NTEC - a brand new, $700 million, fossil fuel-burning plant – is prudent in light of the federal money for renewable energy in the IRA law,” said Evan Mulholland, an attorney with MCEA.
“We are excited to put forward a plan that can reliably and affordably put Minnesota Power on a path to decarbonization at the pace and scale of the climate crisis, by avoiding new fossil fuels and investing in renewables and storage,” said Fresh Energy’s Allen Gleckner. “We’re looking forward to working with the Commission and Minnesota Power on what’s next for Minnesota’s second largest utility.”
“Clean Grid Alliance appreciates Minnesota Power’s continued commitment to achieving 100 percent carbon free electricity by 2050. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, opportunities to upgrade existing transmission infrastructure, and new MISO-approved regional transmission lines, Minnesota Power has many creative opportunities to transition to a carbon-free future. CGA looks forward to partnering with them to achieve their ambitious goal,” said Peder Mewis, Clean Grid Alliance
Regional Policy Manager - West.
“Minnesota Power can commit to a long-term energy plan that prioritizes public health and environmental justice by retiring the Hibbard coal and biomass power plant in West Duluth – preventing millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from harming our health,” said Jenna Yeakle, MPH, Sierra Club. “Minnesota Power has the opportunity now to do right by Northland communities and plan for the clean, equitable energy future we deserve.”
It’s worth noting that MCEA and Sierra Club, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and other groups, also expressed concerns about NTEC in comments filed recently with the federal government’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which is considering granting a federal loan to help fund a portion of NTEC’s construction. Included in its comment, the EPA urged the RUS to consider the social costs of carbon from NTEC, estimating that cost to be $2.15 billion over just 15 years, not including the
impacts from methane leaks. A copy of the comment MCEA, Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin and Honor the Earth submitted to the RUS is available upon request.
CEOs also again called on Minnesota Power to retire its Hibbard coal and biomass plant as soon as possible, and to take steps now to maintain the option of fully retiring Boswell by 2030. Numerous national studies indicate that US coal plants need to be retired by 2030 to meet our climate goals.
Air pollution caused by the plants was detailed in a first-of-its-kind in Minnesota health equity study commissioned for an IRP process and cited in CEOs initial filing.
The study found that the Hibbard plant’s health and equity impacts are particularly sever considering its location in the Duluth area, an urban center. The neighborhood nearest Hibbard is also disproportionately low-income, with higher percentages of Black and Native residents.
The study, conducted by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, found similarly alarming trends linked to Minnesota Power’s Boswell and other coal plants, and underscores the serious, long-lasting and disproportionate health effects that come from burning fossil fuel.
CEOs urge the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to make health impact studies a routine practice in the fulfillment of its duty to protect the public interest during the IRP process.
A copy of the study’s findings, as well as CEOs reply comment, is available upon request.