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Big Stone II

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The Star Tribune recently ran an editorial on Big Stone II that covers much of what I planned (but never had time) to write about it. The Supreme Court's Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy decision should hurt Big Stone II's chances of survival.

Big Stone II is affected because it has been justified by claiming it will not increase emissions of any criteria pollutants (those regulated explicitly by name under the Clean Air Act) due to retrofits of the existing Big Stone I plant that will lower its emissions by an amount comparable to the new emissions from Big Stone II. Big Stone II will greatly increase GHG emissions however even though it will be more efficient than nearly all other existing plants.

From the Strib:

The existing Big Stone plant has been retrofitted several times, most significantly in 1995, without seeking new permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Sierra Club has served notice that it intends to sue the Big Stone operator for that failure, and the practicality of a suit gained ground Monday in the court's decision in Environmental Protection Agency vs. Duke Energy. Duke had argued, much as Big Stone has argued, that its retrofitting of existing coal-fired power plants was too "minor" to trigger a requirement for new permits. Numerous American utilities have used that subterfuge to avoid seeking permits obviously required under the Clean Air Act. In the Duke case, the Supreme Court finally slammed the door on that behavior.

If it were only that easy! A press release from Duke Energy suggests they do not agree that the door has been slammed shut.

The U.S. Supreme Court considered only whether an hourly emissions standard was appropriate to use when triggering NSR – and did not review what constitutes routine repair and replacement activities under NSR.

Depending on how the courts interpret "routine repair and replacement activities," Big Stone I may be forced to upgrade its pollution abatement equipment regardless of whether it builds Big Stone II or not. If that happens, the justification for building Big Stone II is much weaker because it will increase all pollutants rather than just GHGs.

We'll see what the courts find on this, but it looks like the issue is not over. Big shocker there.