The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a supplemental environmental assessment for a $700 million gas plant project in Superior failed to fully consider the project’s potential impact on climate change and emissions. of greenhouse gases.
Federal environmental regulators say the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, or NTEC, project could — if built — cause an estimated $2 billion in climate damage from greenhouse gas emissions through 2040. .
The 625-megawatt gas plant would be built along the Nemadji River in Superior by La Crosse-based Dairyland Power, Duluth-based Minnesota Power, and a subsidiary of a North Dakota utility. Dairyland Power is applying for a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to help pay for the plant as utilities retire coal-fired plants and switch to renewable energy.
Last year, four organizations, including Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club, asked the Rural Utilities Service to conduct an additional environmental assessment of the plant. They argued that the agency failed to fully assess climate impacts as part of an environmental review of the project. This review revealed that the plant would have no significant impact on the environment.
Additional analysis released in June estimated that the project would generate 2.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. However, regulators said the plant would reduce emissions by around 964,000 tonnes a year because it would displace coal-fired power plants and require less frequent ignitions.
But, the EPA said the additional review “does not fully quantify or adequately disclose” the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The agency recommends that the Rural Utilities Service analyze upstream, construction-related and indirect emissions from the project.
“Federal agencies have a legal obligation to consider direct and indirect impacts, including upstream and downstream emissions caused by the production, processing, transportation, and consumption of project resources,” the report wrote. EPA staff in a July 26 letter.
The Rural Utilities Service said in its supplemental review that the specific sources of natural gas transported for the project are unknown and subject to change.
“For this reason, the environmental impacts of upstream natural gas production are not reasonably foreseeable to be accurately predicted,” the analysis states.
The EPA disputes the agency’s findings. A USDA Rural Development spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the EPA’s comments.
Environmental groups have praised federal environmental regulators for their recommendations, saying it demonstrates support for the Biden administration’s climate goals.
“The time has come to move away from fossil fuels. It’s probably yesterday, so this project shouldn’t go ahead,” said Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “If the USDA (Rural Utilities Service) is investing in energy, it should be investing in clean energy – not carbon emitting sources.”
Elizabeth Ward, director of the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter, said conservationists want utilities to cancel plans to build the plant. She said the pending $369 billion climate deal with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin includes a plan to cut methane emissions.
“I think this just adds to the growing awareness of the seriousness of gas and methane pollution and the fact that we won’t be able to properly address climate change if we don’t do something. about it,” Ward said.
In its comments, the EPA further alleges that the plant failed to analyze potential measures to reduce the effects of carbon emissions through alternative fuels like hydrogen or the use of carbon capture technology. . Federal environmental regulators also say the supplemental assessment failed to properly consider the effects of climate change on the project, as well as its effects on Native American tribes and environmental justice.
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa wants to see a closer look at the direct and indirect effects of the project, said Linda Nguyen, the tribe’s environmental manager.
“Like considerations upstream and downstream of the point of extraction, where the fuel is extracted from,” Nguyen said. “And, then also to take into account the effects of climate change, particularly the 500-year flood events, if those happen more frequently, how are we going to prepare for that?”
Beyond that, the tribe would like to see the Rural Utilities Service consider potential impacts to the remains of the Fond du Lac Band ancestors of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota. In 1918, nearly 200 Ojibway graves were removed from the Wisconsin Point burial grounds in Superior, on the western shore of Lake Superior. The remains were reinterred at St. Francis Cemetery in Superior, which is located near the site of the proposed gasworks.
Red Cliff would also like the supplemental environmental assessment to consider indirect effects on murdered and missing Indigenous women, which it believes may be affected by the extraction and transportation of natural gas for the Project.
Nguyen said the USDA had made limited contact with the tribe about its concerns, adding that there had been virtually no consultation from other state and federal agencies authorizing the project.
“It would make sense to us for the regulatory and permitting process to take a pause until meaningful, good-faith consultation can take place,” said Noah Saperstein, the tribe’s environmental justice specialist.
In a statement, Dairyland Power said it has complied and will continue to comply with state and federal permitting and environmental review requirements.
“Dairyland plans for more renewable resources as we work towards low carbon targets. However, renewable energy additions are also increasing the grid’s need for flexible installations capable of delivering reliable, fast-start generation, which will be NTEC’s specialty,” said Katie Thomson, a spokeswoman for Dairyland Power. “It will be a flexible, low-emission and highly efficient natural gas facility that will provide on-demand generation and support the rapid expansion of renewable energy resources.
Thomson added that Dairyland and its partners continue to evaluate technologies that would allow flexibility in the types of fuels used at the Superior gas plant.
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator also submitted comments on the supplemental assessment, urging the Rural Utilities Service to consider the value of the project to ensure reliability. The regional grid operator said 15 states, including Wisconsin, could experience a power shortage of 2,600 megawatts next year.
“Given changes to the generation fleet and potential generation capacity shortfalls, it is imperative that reliable generation resources, such as those at Project NTEC, be recognized for the regional reliability value provided to customers in the region. said Kristina Tridico, an attorney for MISO in a July 25 letter.
Project owners are still reviewing EPA comments and awaiting direction from the Rural Utilities Service, according to Julie Pierce, Minnesota Power’s vice president of strategy and planning. But she stressed that the need for the project has not changed.
“We still see a huge need on our network, especially in what we’re seeing right now with very scarce energy resources as the transformation takes hold, to ensure that we can keep reliable service available to everyone here. in the area,” Pierce said.
The Rural Utilities Department is accepting public comments on the supplemental review until August 23. An EPA spokesperson said it expected to provide comments on the final document.
The Nemadji Trail Energy Center has faced legal challenges in Minnesota and Wisconsin, some of which are still ongoing. The utilities had hoped the facility would be in service by 2025, but Pierce said that date would likely be pushed back as they continue the permitting process.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and wpr.org.
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2022, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of information to our readers. Learn learn more about the information services used by the FCC here.