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Court appeal filed over proposed gas plant in Superior

Environmental groups seek to block construction of the $700 million Nemadji Trail Energy Center.

The rendering shows what a new 625-megawatt natural gas power generation facility could look like near the Nemadji River along Superior’s industrial corridor
The rendering shows what a new 625-megawatt natural gas power generation facility could look like near the Nemadji River along Superior’s industrial corridor along Stinson Street from East End to South Superior.
Contributed / Minnesota Power
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MADISON — The Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin have filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals seeking to block the construction of the $700 million Nemadji Trail Energy Center project in Superior. The notice of appeal was filed Thursday, June 30, in Dane County Circuit Court.

La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative and a subsidiary of Minnesota Power are seeking to build the 625-megawatt plant, which would sell power into the wholesale market. The utilities say the plant is needed to allow them to move away from coal-fired generation and that it will support the addition of more clean energy sources like wind and solar.

A Dane County circuit judge rejected arguments made by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin that the Public Service Commission failed to consider the full environmental impact of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center.

The environmental groups claim that the Wisconsin Public Service Commission failed to adequately consider environmental impacts when it issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to construct and operate the gas-fired power plant. They contend that the PSC made errors of law, fact, procedure and discretion in granting the certificate to the project.

“When this project was approved, one PSC commissioner said it would have the worst environmental impacts he’d ever seen. The Chair of the Commission dissented from the approval, saying that neither of the sites put forth by the applicants was in the public interest. The NTEC project should never have been approved in the first place, and we will continue to fight it,” Clean Wisconsin General Counsel Katie Nekola stated in a Thursday news release from the two environmental groups.

The PSC’s decision to approve the Nemadji Trail Energy Center project was affirmed May 17 by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Frost. Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club had petitioned the court in 2020 for a judicial review of the decision.

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“This Court understands the passions at play and the massive impacts a major project of this nature holds for the state,” Frost wrote in his conclusion. “However, those passions cannot control this Court’s review. Applying the legal standards this Court must requires that I find the PSC properly conducted itself in granting the CPCN at issue. For all these reasons, I affirm.”

Sierra Club Wisconsin Director Elizabeth Ward said in the news release that building a new gas plant would be an environmental and economic disaster.

“Constructing NTEC would saddle Wisconsinites with decades of paying for this plant and set back home-grown renewable development in Northern Wisconsin for years to come,” Ward said. “We will continue to fight against NTEC and all new gas plants for the sake of our climate and the communities that would bear the burden of continued investment in fossil fuels.”

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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