PRESS RELEASE

Minnesota Power Plant Must Undergo Environmental Review

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 23, 2022
Contact
Anne Borgendale, Communications Director, CURE (Clean Up the River Environment), anne@cureriver.org |320-269-2984
Hudson Kingston, Litigation and Policy Attorney, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), hkingston@peer.org, (202) 792-1277


Minnesota Power Plant Must Undergo Environmental Review

Public Utilities Commission Agrees with Petitioners that New Oil-Fired Unit Must Be Studied Under MEPA

 

St. Paul, Minnesota — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (Commission) ordered an environmental review of Great River Energy’s (GRE) proposed alterations to the Cambridge 2 peaking plant today. The decision is in response to a petition by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Clean Up the River Environment (CURE), and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter demanding environmental review of the electric generation and transmission cooperative’s proposed project.

The Cambridge 2 facility, located in Cambridge, Minnesota, is a “peaking” power plant designed to supply on-demand additional energy to the grid when demand for electricity spikes. Currently, Cambridge 2 runs exclusively on natural gas. But a GRE request for the Commission to approve a “minor alteration” of the facility’s existing 2005 permit seeks to change that. If granted, the proposed alterations would allow for Cambridge 2 to become a “dual fuel” facility—one that burns either natural gas or fuel oil—without requiring the Commission to review the environmental, human, and economic impacts that burning fuel oil may have.

In petitioning for environmental review under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), PEER, CURE, and Sierra Club argued that constructing and operating the proposed facility has the potential for significant environmental impacts. Especially concerning are the potential increases in hourly emission rates for carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter, mercury, and lead. The human health impacts of these air pollutants are well-documented and range from decreased lung function and aggravation of existing respiratory diseases like asthma to nonfatal heart attacks and premature death for those with heart or lung disease. The surrounding community is already over-exposed to traffic pollution and this new facility would make existing environmental harms worse.

The Commission agreed, stating that the petition indisputably raised potential significant impacts that had to be studied under MEPA. The Commission ordered the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), which lays out potential environmental impacts to determine whether a full environmental review is required. PEER and CURE are pleased with the Commission’s decision.

“As the Commission identified, this proposal to burn fuel oil in Cambridge could harm the environment and human health and needs to be studied” said Hudson Kingston, Litigation and Policy Attorney at PEER. “GRE could save lives, and potentially money, opting for twenty-first century technology like batteries rather than doubling down on fossil fuels. We support the preparation of a full Environmental Impact Statement considering both cumulative impacts and better alternatives once this preliminary EAW is completed.”

“Completing an EAW is a step in the right direction and will allow for a more transparent process in which rural electric cooperative member-owners can have a say in how they get their power,” said Sarah Mooradian, Government Relations and Policy Director at CURE. “We want to ensure that in preparing for changing power needs in a changing climate that GRE and other electricity generation and transmission companies don’t inadvertently exacerbate the problem by burning more fossil fuels and emitting more greenhouse gases.”

The Commission will next address whether to grant Great River Energy’s application for a minor alteration. Members of the public can submit their comments until 4:30 pm on July 1, 2022.

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CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) is a rural-based organization focusing on climate, energy, water, and democracy, with offices in Montevideo, Minnesota. Our work strives to build grassroots community power to address the intersections of environmental challenges, societal inequities, and other systemic changes facing our communities.

 

PEER logoPEER supports current and former public employees who seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agencies. We do this by defending whistleblowers, shining the light on improper or illegal government actions, working to improve laws and regulations, and supporting the work of other organizations.