In climate win, Superior rejects gas plant

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Residents of the Twin Ports may be breathing easier after the Superior, WI city council refused to advance local permits for the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC), a proposed natural gas plant backed and owned by Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have issued approvals for NTEC already, but the city council’s decision could significantly delay or even halt the project. It’s a clear victory for Duluth-Superior environmental advocates and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa – and those concerned with climate worldwide – who have raised environmental justice and climate concerns in their opposition to the project.

Minnesota Power and its allies have billed NTEC as a necessary step in the company’s efforts to shut down the region’s remaining coal plants and provide an added layer of energy reliability with the shift to wind and solar power. They argue that the net emissions reductions from replacing coal with a natural gas plant make the project’s environmental impacts a worthwhile cost. That argument, as Superior’s city council and mayor have rightly recognized, amounts to smoke and mirrors.

Natural gas is not a clean fuel. The gas used by NTEC would come from fracking, which releases methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That gas will then be burned, emitting more than 2 million tons of carbon annually – less than the coal plants, but still significant. Its very construction – which would destroy 20 acres of wetlands – would have immediate negative impacts on natural carbon storage and hydrology in the Twin Ports area. It would also threaten to disrupt Anishinaabe burial grounds only recently returned to tribal control.

If all we needed to protect our future from climate change – for the Twin Ports, the United States, and the world – was to simply reduce greenhouse gas emission by half, building new gas plants like NTEC to replace coal might begin to make sense. But internationally-accepted science says that we need to reduce net emissions worldwide to zero by at least 2050. It also tells us that we can’t reach that goal with the current fossil fuel infrastructure – much less if we continue to build more.

That means that NTEC would either continue operating for decades despite the necessity of rapid emissions cuts, or would become a stranded asset. The latter scenario is far more likely, given the plummeting cost of clean energy, but it would leave ratepayers and residents on the hook for the unnecessary costs of construction and maintenance for NTEC.

Minnesota Power’s reliability argument also fails to hold water. While it’s true that wind turbines and solar panels – which now provide power far more cheaply than fossil fuels – are weather-dependent on an individual level, energy storage technology is also advancing rapidly. These power companies could be far better stewards of their ratepayers, the climate, and their own bottom line by investing in storage and grid improvements that can pay off in the long-term.

Minnesota Power and Dairyland Power will likely push back on Superior’s decision in court, but Superior’s decision is a strong rebuke and a useful delay that could help influence the utilities to rethink their plan. The City Council made the right call on NTEC in the face of considerable pressure from industry and state regulators, and we hope to see it upheld.

We thank organizations like the Sierra Club and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for their longtime advocacy to protect the Twin Ports from this misguided project.

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One Response to “In climate win, Superior rejects gas plant

  1. Anna Wagner

    Thank you for all you do and providing the public with the information we need to be effective advocates for this earth.


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