Fossil Fuels in the Northland

coal plant smoke stacks

Why we don’t need the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center

Last October, the global scientific authority on climate change issued a stark warning: we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid disastrous changes to our climate.

The report issued by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the planet will reach a crucial temperature threshold by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

That date, only eleven years from now, is based on current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, without adding more.

Despite these clear warnings, Minnesota Power and LaCrosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative have filed an application with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to construct a 625-megawatt gas-fired power plant that would emit, according to their own calculations, almost three million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Called the “Nemadji Trail Energy Center,” this fossil fuel plant would be located near the banks of the Nemadji River in Superior, Wisconsin. The Nemadji flows into nearby Lake Superior, and new gas pipeline would need to be drilled under the river to serve the facility. The gas plant would use diesel oil as backup fuel, which also produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

Dairyland Power claims that building a gas-fired power plant will “enable the addition of more renewable energy resources such as wind and solar” even though the utility has already added renewable resources to its portfolio without the gas plant. This idea perpetuates the myth that wind and solar power need to be “backed up” by fossil generators, which ignores the fact that the nation’s power grid does not depend on whether it’s windy or sunny in any one location on any one day. In other words, the wind’s always blowing somewhere.

Clean Wisconsin supports Dairyland’s investments in renewable energy; according to their website, they have installed or purchased 25 megawatts of solar and around 233 megawatts of wind power. But even if these renewable resources did need to be backed up, it would not require the 625 megawatts of gas-fired generation that is being proposed, especially since Dairyland Power also continues to own and/or operate hundreds of megawatts of carbon-emitting coal-fired generating facilities in Wisconsin.

We have run out of time for fossil fuels. Adding new sources of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere when clear scientific consensus tells us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the height of irresponsibility. According to the project application, the Nemadji plant would operate for at least thirty years, well beyond the date that the scientific community warns us we must cut carbon emissions.

Governor Evers has pledged to part of the climate change solution by setting a state goal of using 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Reaching that goal as quickly as possible starts with opposing this gas plant. We cannot afford to add to the problem by building another unnecessary fossil fuel power plant.