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EPA’s climate games in Wisconsin

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — After the U.S. Department of Agriculture found the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC) in Superior would have no significant impact on the environment, President Joe Biden’s power-grabbing Environmental Protection Agency stepped in and said the proposed natural gas plant had failed to account for climate change and emissions.

It’s the latest in the left’s war on American energy independence.

“At a time when our state is at risk of rolling blackouts for the first time ever, it is mind-boggling that a federal agency would take steps to delay Wisconsinites’ access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-7th CD).

Tiffany recently sent EPA Administrator Michael Regan a letter urging him to support the proposed natural gas plant after the agency said a Supplemental Environmental Assessment failed to properly account for carbon emissions. But when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service conducted the first environmental assessment last year it found the plant would have no significant environmental impact. Judges have agreed.

NTEC is now waiting for direction from the Rural Utilities Service.

As Tiffany notes in his letter, the proposed $700 million natural gas plant would provide affordable and reliable energy to customers across four states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. The 625-megawatt plant would be built along the Nemadji River in Superior by both Wisconsin-based Dairyland Power and Duluth-based Minnesota Power. The plant was expected to be in service by 2025. Delays, such as this one, will most likely push the date back.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal. Therefore, RUS estimates that the NTEC would reduce emissions by about 964,000 tons annually.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which this summer warned of potential rolling blackouts, supports the NTEC plant. MISO expects to see an energy shortage of 2,600 megawatts next year. Additionally, MISO estimates the capacity shortfalls will widen in the years following as a result of the transition to intermittent energy sources and growing demand.

“Energy security is national security, and the NTEC is crucial to providing clean, reliable, and affordable energy to Wisconsin and beyond in an environmentally safe way,” Tiffany said. “It’s time for the EPA to plan for the future by supporting the NTEC plant.”

In its assessment, the EPA determined NTEC would be responsible for $2.15 billion in “climate damages” because of emissions from 2025-2040.

“I find these conclusions deeply troubling and remain concerned that the EPA’s unrelenting effort to delay the approval of this vital project based on unsupported ideological considerations is both unfair and dangerous,” Tiffany wrote in the letter.

Environmentalist groups Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club in late June filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals seeking to block the construction of the natural gas facility. They claim the Public Service Commission erroneously granted state approval. A Dane County judge in June upheld the PSC’s decision and its authority. 

A Minnesota appeals court earlier this month ruled in favor of the project, stating It is a “more reliable and lower cost source” of energy than equivalent-sized wind or solar power projects.

The court found that Minnesota Power and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission “offered extensive evidence and analysis showing that the transition away from coal and toward intermittent renewable resources impairs reliability and could cause a reliance on more expensive energy markets.”

“Their analyses also demonstrated that NTEC addresses these concerns, providing a more reliable and lower cost (including environmental costs) source of energy than the equivalent renewable resources,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, substantial evidence supports the commission’s determination that NTEC best serves the public interest.”

La Crosse-based Dairyland Power praised the rulings, saying the natural-gas plant will help it phase out coal-fired power plants.

“Current challenges to the project only serve to compromise progress towards the lower-carbon goals shared by consumers and utilities alike,” Dairyland spokeswoman Katie Thomson said.

“The Nemadji Trail Energy Center is critical to the livelihoods and well-being of all of our residents and businesses, and the EPA must reconsider its position and do everything it can to help move this vital project forward,” Tiffany said.

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