The Big Stone II hearings have begun at the PUC, ostensibly for transmission for the project, but the need for the plant remains at issue.  For the PUC docket on Big Stone, go to and then to “Search DOckets” and then plug in 05-619.
You can tell that the people in Alexandra have been getting word out about the Big Stone plant, and you can tell what way the wind is blowing at the Echo Press in Alexandria — Mark Rolfes, the BS project manager, gets the Commentary, a defensive Commentary, while the regular guy gets a little ink in the LTE, but as we all know, the size of the commentary is directly proportional to the weakness of their argument!

Big Stone II will limit mercury emissions, double generating capacity


By Mark Rolfes, Big Stone II project manager, Fergus Falls, MN

The public debate about mercury contamination too often is based on hyperbole rather than reason.

Those who are critical of plans to expand the Big Stone power station’s generating capacity suggest that mercury contamination will disappear from our lakes, streams, and fish if only we agree to not use coal to produce electricity. What they offer is an overly simplistic answer to a complex environmental problem.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is released into the environment through human activity and natural processes. About 55 percent of the mercury worldwide is produced from runoff and natural leaching, forest fires, and volcanic activity.

While it is true that some mercury is released from coal-fired power plants, the amount is relatively small, largely insoluble, and not easily converted into the methyl mercury that contaminates our waters and collects in the fatty tissues of fish.

Moreover, there has been significant reduction in the mercury emissions in the United States during the last 30 years. Since 1970, industrial use of mercury has decreased by 80 percent. Because of improved pollution-control technologies, mercury emissions from power plants declined 38 percent between 1995 and 1999.

In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a new standard that requires a 20 percent reduction in electric utility mercury emissions within the next four years. By 2018, mercury emissions from power plants must be reduced by 70 percent.

Our project will more than double the generating capacity of the Big Stone power station near Milbank, S.D., without increasing the amount of mercury discharged into the atmosphere. By installing highly effective emission control equipment on the new 630-megawatt generator and the existing generator, we will be able to limit the mercury in our emissions to no more than 189 pounds per year. That is equal to the record we achieved in 2004 with the existing 450-megawatt generator.

By any measure, the seven utilities involved in the Big Stone II project â?? Otter Tail Power Company, Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Great River Energy, Heartland Consumers Power District, Missouri River Energy Services, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency â?? are concerned about environmental protection. Limiting our mercury emissions to the 2004 level while more than doubling our generating capacity is a significant accomplishment.

We and other regional utilities are participating in expensive research to reduce power plant emissions. Utilities are investing millions of dollars in research and demonstration projects to develop emission-control technologies that will capture mercury before it leaves the power plant.

We will use highly effective technology not only to supply our customers with reasonably priced electricity but also to minimize environmental degradation.Â

Here’s the view from the regular guy:

Big Stone II: An environmental mistake


To the editor:

I think that members of Runestone Electric Association should be concerned that the power supplier for their and many other rural electric cooperatives (REC), Great River Energy (GRE), would be a major owner of a planned coal-fired electric generating plant, Big Stone II, which would be built in South Dakota. I think that building such a plant at this time would not only be an environmental mistake but could also be a catastrophic financial blunder.

This plant, like all coal-fired plants, would be a large contributor of green house gases (CO2), which most scientists agree are causing global warming. The cost of this plant has already increased from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion and a route for the associated transmission lines has not been approved, but the involved utilities seem to be proceeding full speed ahead.

If, as many knowledgeable people predict that CO2 limits and penalties are enacted, the costs, which would be added onto a plant like Big Stone II, would be substantial. Some say as much as 30 to 40 percent.

The involved utilities say they will deal with these issues as they appear. What this translates to is that you and I will end up paying for their mistakes. Our rates about doubled after the last large coal-fired plant, Coal Creek, came online.

There are alternatives to this electric generating plant. Our power supplier GRE is involved in wind energy and has natural gas-fired peak time generators to back them up when the wind is not blowing.

I encourage everyone to get involved in this issue. Ottertail Power and power suppliers to most municipal utilities are also involved in this project, so it affects many people in this area.

Glenn Bennett
Lowry, MN

(Editor’s note: Watch for an in-depth story about the Big Stone II project and the controversy surrounding it in Friday’s Echo Press.)

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