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Minnesota high court to take up Nemadji Trail environmental-review order

Minnesota’s high court will review a lower court’s ruling that ordered a new environmental review for a proposed $700 million natural-gas plant in Superior.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to look at a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision from December that found the state’s Public Utilities Commission should have considered the likely environmental effects of building the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy center in northwest Wisconsin when it advanced the project in October 2018. The ruling could result in a significant delay in the project and would force Minnesota regulators to conduct a new environmental review of the project.

Minnesota Power, which would own the plant with La Crosse-based Dairyland Power, argued in its appeal to the supreme court that, because the plant would be in Wisconsin, the appeals court had overstepped its authority in ordering an environmental analysis. The supreme court hasn’t yet set a date for oral arguments.

A number of environmental groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota have objected to the construction of the natural gas plant, and utilities say it would allow them to move away from coal-fired plants while they develop renewable-energy projects. The cost of the 625-megawatt plant would be shared by 145,000 customers in northern Minnesota and Dairyland’s four-state territory. The utilities hope to complete the project by 2025 and say it could create 260 construction jobs.

The Nemadji trail project, which earned approval from Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission in January, is still faced with a number of hurdles that could derail construction, including a challenge in Dane County Circuit Court. Despite the Wisconsin PSC’s approval in January, the project needs to secure permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the city of Superior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

DNR staff in October raised concerns over whether the natural-gas plant would have enough access to groundwater to operate at its planned site and could permanently affect nearby wetlands. Utilities developing the project dispute that finding.

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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