Demise of Big Stone II worries municipal utilityThe news that a proposed regional coal-powered electric plant will not go forward has at least one Minnesota municipal utility concerned about the future of power generation in the region.
By: David Little, West Central Tribune
WILLMAR, Minn. — The news that a proposed regional coal-powered electric plant will not go forward has at least one Minnesota municipal utility concerned about the future of power generation in the region.
Meanwhile, a west-central Minnesota environmental group opposed to the Big Stone II plant is looking to ways this region’s future power needs can be supplied by alternative sources.
Willmar (Minn.) Municipal Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm says he’s disappointed and worried about the demise of the proposed Big Stone II power plant and transmission line project.
“We were counting on that not only for Willmar’s needs but for the whole region,” Gomm said. “Without that, I’m very concerned about what will happen to the whole region.”
MDU Resources Group Inc. recently announced that it would not build the planned 500-to-600-megawatt Big Stone II coal-fired power project near Milbank, South Dakota.
In September, Otter Tail Corp, Big Stone II’s lead developer, withdrew from the project due to the economic downturn and the high level of uncertainty associated with coal-powered electric plants.
Thus, MDU said with no partners firmly committed to the plan, they couldn’t move forward.
Willmar Utilities had planned to buy 30 megawatts of power from Big Stone II plant to replace a 30-megawatt contract with Great River Energy that expires in 2015.
“We’re worried about it,” Gomm continued. “We know that the community has always been very supportive of us and our efforts. Big Stone was going to be one of the lowest cost options for us and we’ll have to search now and try to continue to find the next lowest cost option, whatever that is.”
Gomm said buying power from other producers will be even that much more difficult now because all the participants in Big Stone needed the power.
“They’re all going to be out there shopping, too,” he said.
Also, Gomm said, it will mean looking at other options for more local generation and stepping up the utility’s activities to get more power out of the local power plant.
The demise of Big Stone II puts several major wind farms in jeopardy because the wind farms were planning to have access to the transmission lines that were to have been built as part of the Big Stone project, according to Gomm.
Meanwhile, after nearly five years of publicly voicing opposition to the project, the Clean Up the River Environment board of directors is setting its sights on collaborating with rural electric co-ops and municipalities that are now turning to alternative power sources to supply energy that would have come from Big Stone II.
“We have said for the past four years that the cheapest new form of reliable electricity generation is wind backed by natural gas,” said CURE renewable energy consultant Duane Ninneman. “Now it looks as if several of the former Big Stone II partners will be going in that direction.”
CURE, located in Montevideo, Minn., is discussing ways regional rural electric cooperatives and municipal power companies can bring solar energy, wind and ramped-up energy efficiency projects to communities of the Upper Minnesota River Watershed.
“We will soon view our shift to smart-clean energy in the same way we have come to embrace and expect Internet and cell service,” said Ninneman. “At the foundation of this system is energy efficiency and conservation delivered in a partnership between electric utilities and their customers.
“There is a tremendous opportunity to create sustainable jobs that will help our region emerge as a leader in the clean energy economy,” said CURE Executive Director Patrick Moore. “In this new clean energy economy, every home, every business and every institution has an opportunity to become a renewable energy generation facility.”
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