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N.D. PSC won't delay its Big Stone case

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Public Service Commission will not put its proceedings on the proposed Big Stone II power plant on hold, it decided Friday.

Opponents from Plains Justice, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, asked the PSC to suspend the North Dakota process known as "advanced determination of prudence" while the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decides what to do with an adverse administrative law recommendation affecting the plant. Plains Justice has formal status in the case as an intervener.

Big Stone II is a proposed addition to the coal-fired Big Stone plant in northeastern South Dakota. Because two of its owners, Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power Co., serve North Dakota, the PSC must decide if it is prudent to build the addition, adding to the cost of North Dakota consumers' electricity bills.

Earlier this month, two administrative law judges in Minnesota recommended against building transmission lines through Minnesota that would take Big Stone II's power east.

Now the Minnesota commission has the final say. It can accept, change or reject the administrative judges' decision.

Plains Justice asked the North Dakota officials to take official notice of the Minnesota judges' recommendation and suspend the case until the PSC decides.

North Dakota commissioners Susan Wefald, Tony Clark and Kevin Cramer voted to take official notice of the Minnesota judges' recommendation but said there was no reason to suspend its decision-making on its prudence determination.

"We still control our own agenda and our own timetable," Clark said. He said it would be "difficult to get into a chicken-and-egg" process, where each state's officials wait for the other to decide.

Big Stone II has had other problems in addition to the Minnesota judges' recommendation against transmission lines. The plant once had additional owners, Great River Energy and Southern Minnesota Municipal Power, who pulled out of the project last September.

That has caused the North Dakota PSC to have to hold hearings on the prudence issue twice, most recently last month.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.