10/22/2009 8:38:00 AM Hundreds attend LS Power information meeting sponsored by county and Lent Township
BY DENISE MARTIN
Monday night's informational meeting on the LS Power electric station project began civilly-enough; but as the session stretched into its second hour, peoples' patience thinned and audience members felt compelled to hoot at some speakers or applaud mightily for others.
Lent Township Hall, an airplane hangar-sized building, was filled to standing room only. Posters were carried by people declaring "stop the power plant" and "we need jobs now."
The panel of state and local officials walked everybody through the various processes each panel member had regulatory authority over. The public microphone was then opened up for statements, speeches, questions and concerns in the second half of the meeting.
There is no design or site plan available yet for the electric station, which is proposed for an area near County Road 14 and 15, next to the Xcel electric substation.
The Public Utilities Commission has been told to expect a permit application from LS Power in late 2009 or early 2010, according to PUC representative Bob Cupit.
Those attending the meeting were also informed state authorities have "pre-empted" from local authority, the permitting for the LS Power electric station project.
Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter explained state laws basically require state control over projects needing state permits. The county is a "subdivision" of the state and Reiter added, the county relinquishes siting and permitting tasks for a project like this.
Later in public comment, an anti-power plant organizer Shellene Johnson seemed to support local authorities taking back oversight. She asked Bob Cupit, the Public Utilities Commission official, to expound on ways statutes do indeed allow for a "local siting" procedure.
Cupit said the facility must be operated ONLY as a peaking plant and must use a single source of fuel, for it to qualify under local siting. He was under the preliminary impression the LS Power project did not qualify for this. LS Power proposes a combined fuel plant of natural gas and fuel oil.
Cupit also assured the audience the PUC analysis and review of this plan will be "top end." Due to the public interest and implications of the project, "no short shrift" will be given to this state review by any PUC regulators, Cupit stressed. LS Power has to demonstrate need for the plant capacity (futures contracts sales, etc.) and show the PUC the project, "is in the interests of Minnesota energy consumers."
The PUC permitting process can take anywhere from six months to one year, depending on what PUC Board members pursue as a review process. Cupit said law allows for a citizen task force. He anticipates citizens will be asked to contribute during development of the permit evaluations.
If citizens feel the system still failed to consider issues, the decision of the PUC can be appealed to the state Court of Appeals.
Mike Mueller, Regional Hydrologist for the Dept. of Natural Resources, told the crowd that there are no additional permits required for using wastewater from the Chisago Lakes Joint Sewage Treatment Commission's facility, this effluent and possibly North Branch's effluent, are proposed to be re-routed for cooling water for the electric station.
Mueller's role will be reviewing permits for water crossings, such as a driveway into the site or for locating utility corridors. LS Power stated in an October 15 press release it will not sink wells for groundwater for industrial use. Mueller said when this announcement came late last week it eliminated a "fairly large component" of DNR involvement in the electric station.
Craig Affeldt, Pollution Control Agency, explained how the PCA "standard operating procedure" is to not speak about an actual project until it gets a permit application and sees details.
He added the PCA will regulate discharge of water both from the electric station and the wastewater treatment plant water supply. Affeldt said he was involved in various studies within the "St Croix River Basin," so he has field knowledge of the area this electric station is impacting.
The PCA also controls emissions.
The agency will do a "risk analysis" looking into environmental and personal health effects from any emissions proposed as part of an electric station.
Ken Herbst, a spokesperson for a Cambridge-based industrial water service company, commented in public forum that LS Power company is going to utilize "zero liquid discharge" systems. This could actually contribute to helping clean-up the impaired Sunrise River. His statement drew catcalls from the skeptics.
LS Power executive Blake Wheatley used his time at the microphone to speak of tax impacts from this project. He said the county estimates that a $150,000 residential parcel in Lent Township, at current tax rates, would experience $190 in annual tax relief from the infusion of power plant taxes. (This assumes county, schools and township levy don't increase.)
Wheatley said additional powerlines are located in future grid planning scenarios, to transmit wind power from the Dakotas to urban centers in the east. Powerlines are not being added to move the peak-demand power that LS Power will supply in this project, Wheatley said.
There were pleas from pipefitters, electricians and others describing the importance jobs that this two-year construction project will bring here. Some noted the irony in the fact that North Branch Schools are seeking an excess levy referendum Nov. 3 to increase district tax revenues, while a project like this with the potential to contribute a major tax sum is struggling.
Others took the microphone to state the fossil fuel we rely on for energy needs is obsolete, and Chisago County should take a stand to deny this here.
Joyce Marienfeld, opposed to the plant, drew a standing ovation when she observed there are no specifics for this project and officials are abdicating their responsibilities and creating a vague development agreement with LS Power that doesn't address any specific concerns. "We are being taken advantage of," she said.