Oct 19 Chisago County meeting re: LS Power Sunrise River Energy Station

How odd… it’s in both STrib and StPPP today… so comment opportunities abound!

Here’s the story from Dennis Lien:

Skeptics question Chisago power plant

Residents fear water pollution, say plans are too vague

By Dennis Lien
Updated: 11/01/2009 11:22:19 PM CST

At first blush, a proposal for a large power plant in rural Chisago County would seem to have a lot going for it, including apparent need and general support from clean-energy interests.

But that doesn’t mean LS Power’s natural gas-fired project is racing along. Far from it. Many county residents, skeptical of the company’s assertions and irked by what they consider a secretive approach, don’t like it one bit.

“Whether they are for it or against it, people in this area have a right to know what this is about,” said Joyce Marienfeld, a member of an opposition group called Friends of the Sunrise River. “This has been real slippery — just not right.”

County residents have been on edge since earlier this year when the East Coast power plant builder offered what residents viewed as a vague proposal to build a 780-megawatt power plant on a 40-acre site northwest of Lindstrom, 30 miles north of St. Paul. The plant, expected to cost $300 million to $500 million, would use low-polluting natural gas to supplement the state’s growing wind industry by operating when wind power isn’t available or during periods of peak demand.

The Legislature quickly approved tax breaks similar to those given to other plants, provided local governments follow suit. If that happens, the project would be free to seek various air and water permits and Public Utilities Commission approval.

Critics soon objected, especially over plans to use 2 million gallons of groundwater a
day and to discharge that water into the nearby Sunrise River, which empties into the nationally protected St. Croix River.

Earlier this month, the company backed off that approach, opting instead to use treated water from two area wastewater treatment plants.

Opponents, however, continue to maintain the proposal is heavy on general concepts and light on specifics.

“It’s kind of common sense to judge what they are actually planning on doing, instead of vague things on paper,” said state Rep. Jeremy Kalin, DFL-Lindstrom. “We can’t do that.”

Blake Wheatley, LS Power’s assistant vice president, promised more detail will follow, once lingering property tax issues are addressed locally.

“In order for us to be comfortable spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars doing studies, we really need some level of comfort that we can put that economic albatross at bay,” he said.

But critics have other concerns about what could be the largest natural-gas plant in the state.

They say it doesn’t fit into the rural, agricultural landscape and is just a half-mile from the popular Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area. Moreover, they fear increased truck traffic, annoying plant lights and, despite company denials, new power lines. Pollution, they said, could filter through the sandy soil into the Mt. Simon-Hinckley aquifer or get to the Sunrise River.

Building in an already zoned industrial park would be more appropriate, according to Marienfeld, who lives three miles from the proposed site.

Wheatley said the company wants to build the plant to fill a demand for electrical power in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. He said a “great portion” of the power would be sold in Minnesota, with some going to other states.

LS Power has been talking to state utilities about buying the power but hasn’t reached any agreements, he said. “If we can’t identify markets, we are not going forward with it,” he said, adding that discussions with Minnesota utilities “have been very, very positive.”

Placing the plant near the existing Chisago County power substation eliminates the need for additional transmission lines, according to Wheatley. “That substation is one of the biggest, if not the largest, in the state of Minnesota,” he said.

The plant, he said, would not be as visually intrusive as many people fear. “The rural way of life they are used to will continue,” he said.

If everything goes according to plan, Wheatley said, construction would start in 2011, and the plant would open a couple of years later.

Without addressing the proposal’s specifics, St. Paul-based Fresh Energy said it likes the idea of natural gas being used to fill gaps in wind power.

“It’s important for Minnesota to add a modest amount of new high-efficiency, low-emission natural gas power stations to be available when renewable energy sources like solar and wind need a bit of help,” said Michael Noble, its executive director. “Remember that Minnesota is on course to add $10 billion in wind power this next decade.”

Earlier this month, the state Office of Energy Security released a study that said the state needs more natural gas-fired power plants over the next 15 years to provide intermittent and peak power upon demand.

Asked about the LS Power proposal, Energy Security director Bill Glahn said, “It would definitely be most welcome to help us meet our needs for power in the coming years.”

“That report is so far off it’s scary,” responded Carol Overland, an attorney for opposition group Concerned River Valley Citizens. “They are using outdated information.”

Before the Public Utilities Commission takes up the proposal, the Lent Township and Chisago County boards must approve development agreements. Kalin recently urged them to include six conditions, such as a ban on groundwater use and new transmission lines.

“None of them have flagged their intentions,” County Administrator John Moosey said of the five county commissioners. “This is just a great microcosm of local government. Both sides have very strong points, and there are benefits to each.”

And from the STrib’s Tom Meersman:

Protected aquifer feared at risk

By TOM MEERSMAN, Star Tribune

It’s about appropriate land use

Many of us who live near the proposed LS Power Plant are not against power plants in general or the jobs that building them create. We are … read more against a New Jersey-based private equity investment firm, taking our natural resources, spoiling our rural way of life, and getting a $8-9 Million/year tax break to boot. The power is not needed locally. This is not just a peaker plant to offset wind power, when the wind isn’t blowing. It’s a huge (855MW)albatross stuck in the middle of a residential, agricultural area – in direct opposition to the Township and County Comprehansive Land Use plans. Go to LS Power’s website and take a look at what an equivalent plnat looks like. Build the power plant where it belongs – in an industrial area

Pooling underneath the Twin Cities area is drinking water so old and pristine that it’s protected by state law.

It can’t be used for industrial purposes in the seven-county metro area.

But the rules that protect the 900-foot-deep Mount Simon-Hinckley aquifer in the metro don’t apply to Chisago County, where LS Power wants to build a $300 million to $500 million power plant.

The New Jersey-based company’s proposal to use groundwater from the aquifer has intensified opposition to the plant and has raised interest in changing the law to put the water off-limits.

“It is certainly a last-resort aquifer,” said Chris Elvrum, manager of water supply planning for the Metropolitan Council. “It is used by some municipalities when there’s no readily available other source, and only for potable use.”

Elvrum said age-dated samples show that the water ranges from 1,000 to 35,000 years old. Depending on where it is withdrawn, it can take hundreds of years to recharge.

Since the 1989 law forbidding its use for industrial purposes in the metro area, that region has expanded: the U.S. Census Bureau now defines the metropolitan statistical area as 13 counties, including Chisago and several others not part of the original seven-county list.

A change in plans

LS Power knew of Mount Simon’s importance, said D. Blake Wheatley, lead project developer for the company. But he said it proposed last summer to use the deeper water anyway, for fear of competing with any city and private wells that draw water from shallower aquifers. The proposal called for the plant to use water from one or two nearby sewage treatment plants and, if necessary, to supplement that with as much as 2 million gallons of groundwater per day, including some from Mount Simon.

However, the company recently abruptly changed direction; Wheatley said it will not use any groundwater.

“We’re going to make do with the water that we have” from the North Branch and Chisago Lakes joint sewage treatment plants, he said.

The company also abandoned plans to discharge 1 million gallons of water a day from the plant into a tributary of the Sunrise River, said Wheatley, and will develop a “zero-discharge liquid system.”

The decision stems from a change in the design of the natural-gas-fired plant, he said, not from citizen concerns.

Plant meeting draws 500

About 500 people attended a meeting last week to debate the proposal. Some said they supported the plant because it would generate tax revenue and construction jobs.

Others expressed doubts about the company’s change of mind on groundwater use.

Rob Kravitz lives about 2 miles from the site and opposes the plant, period.

“They’ve made concessions, at least on paper, regarding the water use issues,” he said. “My fear is that, after it’s built, they they’ll apply for groundwater permits anyway.”

Kravitz and others are also concerned that the 780-megawatt plant would require more high-voltage power lines in the area. The company denies that.

The proposed 40-acre site is less than a mile from a large electrical substation and within 5 miles of two interstate natural gas pipelines.

Friends of the Sunrise River, a citizens’ group opposed to the project, contends that it will lower property values, increase noise and traffic and conflict with the rural character of the county.

“If the truth were known, it would have more negatives than positives,” said Larry Baker, chairman of the group.

LS Power is only at the beginning of the project, Wheatley said, and hasn’t submitted a formal plan to regulators.

It is seeking a development agreement with the township board and Chisago County commissioners that pertains mainly to property tax exemptions that require local approval. Those decisions likely will be made in December, after which the company would begin pursuing required permits and approvals from state agencies.

Whatever happens next with the project, Rep. Jeremy Kalin, DFL-Lindstrom, said that he is determined to close the loophole that allows the Mount Simon aquifer to be tapped for multiple uses. Kalin said that he and Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, who also represents the area, will introduce a bill next year to extend protection of the aquifer beyond the seven-county metro area.

“It takes dozens or hundreds of years for that water to filter down and to be pure and drinkable,” Kalin said. “We’re not going to just use it for cooling a power plant.”

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