The PUC will hear oral arguments today on the findings of two Minnesota judges who ruled that power lines from the new plant should not be built across west-central Minnesota.
The PUC is then expected to decide Thursday whether or not to issue a certificate of need to build transmission lines in Minnesota for the project.
Public News Service says Attorney Beth Goodpaster with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy wants the commission to accept the judges' ruling, which was based on a recommendation by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. She says the power companies have failed to show that another coal plant makes more sense than renewable energy or increased efficiency when it comes to meeting the demand for electricity.
"This type of coal that has been proposed at Big Stone is what is called conventional coal. It's not capable of capturing its carbon dioxide emissions. From that perspective this case is about the end of that technology. And, so, by building a power plant like this right now, you're taking extreme risks about the costs to run the power plant. We think that this is the worst time to make a new investment in coal."
Earlier this year the Minnesota Department of Commerce concluded that the Big Stone II power plant’s utilities had not proven the need for a new, large coal-fired power plant, a conclusion. The department also stated the shareholders, not ratepayers, should pay if the utilities underestimated the cost.
Oppenents of the whole idea also have the support of South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds who argues that the coal plant (Big Stone II and its power lines) will hinder the development of wind power in his state. Governor Rounds says those same power lines could carry 1,000 megawatts of wind power from South Dakota.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, agrees with the Gov. She says there's no such thing as clean coal, and she says the Big Stone corporate partners instead should build a 1,000-megawatt wind farm.
These are not the only recognizable voices who are siding with the good folks of the area.
The head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies sent a letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty urging him to oppose the Big Stone II power plant as well. Dr. James Hansen questions the decision to build new coal-fired power plants that add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Pawlenty says the plants like Big Stone will only continue to add to the problem of global warming. He says alternative energy sources must be developed right not, not later.
"It is going to require a lot of investment in renewable energies and energy efficiency, and we need to get going on that now. One way you do that is by not building more coal-fired power plants, because that reduces the pressure to do energy efficiency and renewables."
According to Hansen, South Dakota has considerable renewable energy potential. He says it would be smart for the state to get even more aggressive developing its bio-fuel and wind energy resources.
"What we really need to do is have a low-loss electrical grid across the country because we have various renewable energies, some of which are intermittent. You know, eventually we are going to have to go beyond fossil fuels, and that means no carbon emissions. The point is, South Dakota has potential to be a big contributor to that."
The Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe also has something to say about the matter.
On May 9, two Minnesota administrative law judges recommended against building transmission lines to carry power to their state from the proposed coal-burning electric power plant, Big Stone II which Otter Tail Power Company wishes to build in South Dakota, just southeast of Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate's Lake Traverse Reservation. The new plant, by the way, would be right next to an existing coal-fired one, Big Stone I, which began operating in 1975.
''I commend the judges,'' said Office of Environmental Protection Administrator Myrna Thompson, a Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal member upon hearing the ruling. ''Rather than focusing on immediate financial gain, they demonstrated a vision for future generations and the environment.''
Indian Country today reports though Thompson was pleased about the decision and hoped the PUC would be influenced by it, she noted that Native people had been left out of the planning all along. The absence of mandated government-to-government, federal-tribal consultations on the project meant that the tribes' concerns were ignored, she said.
''They're forgetting the impacts on us. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate is a treaty tribe. Where is the Interior Department when it comes to protecting our health and resources?''
Cancer, asthma and respiratory diseases are widespread on the reservation and in the counties surrounding the plant, according to Indian Health Services (IHS) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) data. Children under 10 are especially prone to asthma, Thompson said, while many older people also have illnesses such as bronchitis and lung cancer.
Local cancer rates are not just high; they are also rising, according to NCI figures. Mary Jo Stueve, program coordinator of the national environmental group Clean Water Action, called the area around BSI ''a cancer hot spot, thanks to one of the dirtiest coal-burning plants in the nation.''
Tribal members fear an additional plant will increase the health risks, said Big Coulee District Council Representative Norma Perko, Sisseton-Wahpeton: ''Prevailing southeasterly winds bring the pollution right here.''
Surely, you say, in the face of the wishes of the citizens of of the area, an Indian tribe, a governor, a NASA expert, several will know environmental activists, a state Environmental Protection Administrator, several administrative law judges, a state department of commerce, and god only knows who else, the ruling will go against the power plant.
But then this is the United States of Corporate America, so who knows.
The following little story is from WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Big Stone protesters rally at Minn. commission meeting
Dozens of protesters are hoping to sway Minnesota commissioners as they consider whether to clear a path for a coal-burning power plant in South Dakota.
Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission has the power to approve or block transmission lines from the plant called Big Stone II. Two administrative law judges have recommended rejection.
A spokesman for the utilities backing the plant, Todd Guerrero, says people need the power the plant would provide.
Opposition groups argued that the utilities haven't proven their case, and haven't taken into account new federal costs they might someday face on carbon emissions.
After Tuesday's testimony, the commission is supposed to announce its decision Thursday.