A historic investment in Superior's economy provides a 21st century solution to clean energy for the region.

Minnesota Power announced this week that it is investing in a $700 million state-of-the-art natural gas power generation facility to support its efforts to generate energy in partnership with Dairyland Power Cooperative to enhance safe and reliable energy through wind and solar sources.

Minnesota Power is just beginning to work through the regulatory process that could allow the company to expand its wind power capacity by 250 megawatts and its solar capacity by 10 megawatts.

The proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior would support those efforts by creating a 550-megawatt reliable alternative when wind and solar generation capabilities are insufficient to meet demand.

The proposed natural gas facility, which is slated to begin construction in 2020 with a projected 2025 completion date, would be the single-largest private investment in Superior's history, according to city officials. It would be built near the Nemadji River in the industrial corridor where Calumet and Enbridge Energy operates, away from city neighborhoods, said Superior Mayor Jim Paine.

"This is a several years' process," Paine said. "There's still plenty of questions to be answered ... there are still things that have to be ironed out."

But it is significant for Superior, according to the mayor.

"It's part of a better, more environmental way to get energy," Paine said. "Minnesota Power, especially, is investing a great deal in making a larger percentage of their energy to come from renewable sources. Obviously, renewable sources are not always constant."

Natural gas is an essential component of the resource package to be filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Without this plant, Minnesota Power would be reliant on fluctuating wholesale market prices when sun and wind resources aren't available, increasing overall costs over the long run.

If approved, the result would be 44 percent of the company's energy supply coming from renewable resources by 2025.

"For the past four years, EnergyForward has been exceeding expectations for how an energy company can transform the way it produces and delivers energy," said Brad Oachs, president of Regulated Operations. "We look forward to working with our customers and regulators to continue down the path toward a safe, reliable, cleaner and affordable energy future."

And that future includes natural gas energy generation in Superior.

"Natural gas is cleaner than coal," Paine said. "Superior's part of this is natural gas energy generation. This is designed to back up new, larger investments in renewable energy. Though it isn't part of a solar plant or wind farm, it does support more solar, more wind, more water power."

This facility represents one of the single largest private investments in the history of Superior and Douglas County, according to city officials. It will generate 260 construction jobs at the peak of construction and employ 25 full-time workers, support 130 indirect jobs and generate more than a billion dollars in economic benefits to the region over 20 years. It also carries $1.2 million in direct revenue to Superior, about $800,000 for the city, and Douglas County at a time when rising costs threaten the ability to provide cost effective public services.

This project still has to undergo a lengthy permitting and public review process, during which officials will work to address any and all questions and concerns, Paine said.

"I am very excited by the prospect of a facility that contributes to a diversified energy economy, supports growth and development of renewable energy and contributes to a reduction in carbon emissions, while keeping rates affordable," Paine said.

The project would further balance Minnesota Power's energy mix while providing growth for ALLETE's shareholders, said Al Hodnick, ALLETE chairman, president and CEO.

"Minnesota Power's EnergyForward investments and industrial load prospects complement nicely the nexus of energy and water growth initiatives already announced and additional opportunities being pursued by ALLETE Clean Energy and U.S. Water," Hodnick said.

"We believe this resource package is the best way to meet changing customer expectations for clean energy while preserving safe, affordable and reliable supplies of energy for the customers who depend on us to power homes, schools, hospitals and the natural resource based industry that fuels our region's economy," Oachs said.

The Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report.