The Big Stone II decision came out a few minutes ago, and it’s more BS…

Big Stone II – ALJ Recommendation

… sob…

And here’s the really disturbing part, from paragraph, #10 in the Conclusions:

The Applicants failed to give meaningful consideration to the Mesaba Project as a supply option as required by Minn. Stat. § 216B.1694, subd. 2(a)(5). However, that failure may be excused because it is unlikely that energy from the Mesaba Project will be available when Big Stone II comes online. The Commission may wish to condition the Certificate of Need upon the Applicants making the Mesaba Project a supply option for a portion of their additional energy needs.

Minn. Stat. § 216B.1694, subd. 2(a)(5) states, in pertinent part:

(5) shall, prior to the approval by the commission of any arrangement to build or expand a fossil-fuel-fired generation facility, or to enter into an agreement to purchase capacity or energy from such a facility for a term exceeding five years, be considered as a supply option for the generation facility, and the commission shall ensure such consideration and take any action with respect to such supply proposal that it deems to be in the best interest of ratepayers;

Oh??? And just what “fossil-fuel-fired generation facility” might the PUC be approving here? As the opinion carefully notes, it’s transmission, not the generation part of the project that’s at issue here. So WFT???

In the STrib:

Coal-fired plant gets boost from judges

The PUC was advised to issue permits for transmission lines to carry power from the proposed South Dakota plant to Minnesota.

Last update: August 15, 2007 – 9:19 PM

Plans for a $1.6 billion coal-fired power plant on Minnesota’s boundary with South Dakota cleared a major milestone Wednesday, when two administrative law judges urged state regulators to issue permits for transmission lines to deliver power to customers in Minnesota.The next step comes later this year, when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decides whether to follow the advice of administrative law judges Steve Mihalchick and Barbara Neilson.

Without the transmission permits, the 630-megawatt power plant, called Big Stone II, wouldn’t be built in Big Stone City, S.D., about 175 miles west of Minneapolis. About 2 million of the 2.3 million electricity customers who would get power from the plant live in Minnesota.

The decision, which was months behind schedule, was hailed as a victory by the developers of Big Stone II, but was called disappointing and perplexing by critics who have tried to scuttle the power plant they call a costly and unnecessary polluter.

“We’re gratified,” said Rick Matteson, spokesman for a partner in the project, MDU Resources Group, based in Bismarck, N.D.

“This is a significant ruling,” he said. “It’s really one of the last hurdles we had to jump to bring this plant into reality to serve customers.”

Environmental groups vowed to fight on, however.

“We are very disappointed,” said Bill Grant, director of the Midwest office of the Izaak Walton League, an environmental advocacy group with offices in St. Paul.

Grant said that he and other environmentalists will appeal to the PUC to ignore the findings. Transmission lines, if approved, would crisscross Minnesota and cost as much as $275 million to build. The power plant, whose start-up costs are footed by developers and paid for over time by customers, is planned to be up and running in 2012.

“We believe the administrative law judges got it wrong,” Grant said.

Mihalchick and Neilson, who advise the PUC concerning regulatory measures, downplayed expected future costs of carbon emissions if the federal government imposes caps on how much carbon dioxide utilities and industries can send into the air.

Big Stone II annually will emit an estimated 5 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

A government tax on carbon could add $20 a ton to the cost of burning coal at Big Stone II, Grant said.

“In our view, those costs will be significant and enough to make it uneconomic relative to a plant that didn’t emit CO2 or less CO2,” he said.

The judges sided with estimates of prospective carbon tax costs closer to those provided by Big Stone II developers, in the range of $6 to $9 a ton, Grant said.

Big Stone II will incorporate technology to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent, say developers of the plant, a consortium of utilities that includes Otter Tail Power, Central Minnesota Power, Great River Energy and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. They already operate another coal plant, Big Stone I, in town.

Environmentalists are not convinced.

“I’m perplexed,” said Beth Goodpaster, a lawyer for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The administrative law judges seemed to align themselves with many of the arguments of critics of the power plant, but then come down on the side of Big Stone II developers, she said.

Goodpaster said she was heartened to read that the judges saw flaws in the estimates of Big Stone II developers who certified that a coal-fired plant was the cheapest way to produce power for customers.

“If Big Stone has not evaluated all their alternatives properly, how do you know they need the plant?” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

A PUC decision concerning the plant is expected before the end of the year.

Mike Meyers • 612-673-1746

Mike Meyers •

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