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Customers petition MDU over power plant 'fiasco'

An area grassroots organization met with the president of a state power company and provided more than 450 signatures asking the utility to refuse payback for anticipated profits after the failure of a proposed power plant.

After companies pulled out of the proposed South Dakota Big Stone II coal-fired power plant in 2009, causing the project's demise, the state's Public Service Commission approved a settlement agreement with Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. on June 25, allowing the company to recoup North Dakota's share of the project's development costs, about $10 million, said MDU Resources Group Senior Public Relations Representative Mark Hanson.

"We ratepayers received no benefit from the Big Stone II fiasco and now we are expected to pay for not only the expenses but the return on equity," Missouri Valley Resource Council Chair Verle Reinicke said, according to a press release.

MDU began charging ratepayers an increase on Aug. 1 to recover the costs.

"It's pretty rare that something like this will happen where you get to this point in a project where it's fully permitted but ... by the time this got to a decision point, it was kind of like a perfect storm, it was an unusual convergence of circumstances," Hanson said.

But, MVRC circulated a petition, garnering more than 450 signatures urging the utility to rethink its course of action.

"We're against this return on equity for a project that was never built and never benefited the ratepayers," said Scott Skokos, MVRC organizer. "In many ways, the PSC is kind of at fault for allowing them to go invest in this. Essentially what the PSC did was they stuck the ratepayers with $13 million worth of bills that doesn't create any public benefit."

The project went through a lengthy public input process and after its demise, cost recovery also went through a long process, Hanson said.

"At the end of the day, when you look at everything, it's the cost of doing business," Hanson said.

MVRC had a closed-door meeting with MDU President and CEO Dave Goodin where it presented the petition and discussed renewable energy, energy efficiency and options for use of the recouped money, Skokos said.

"They weren't particularly receptive to using any of the money from Big Stone II to help out ratepayers but they were receptive to what we were saying," Skokos said.

Reinicke said MVRC hopes to hold further meetings with MDU officials to discuss the matter, according to the press release.

Calls to the PSC Tuesday went unreturned.

PSC Commissioners were unavailable for comment Friday.

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