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Big Stone II foes rally

Opponents of Big Stone II will gather today to make the case that the coal-fired power plant would be a bad deal for shareholders of Otter Tail Corp., which owns a major partner behind the proposed project.

Members of the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth plan to gather in the same hotel conference center where Otter Tail shareholders will meet in Fergus Falls, Minn., to highlight environmental and economic concerns about the 500-megawatt power plant proposed near Milbank, S.D.

"There is no such thing as clean coal, no matter how much they say there is," said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

Coal power requires mining, which damages water aquifers, and results in harmful emissions, including mercury, acid rain pollutants and greenhouse gases, she said.

Cesia Kearns of the Sierra Club noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently suspended low-interest loans for rural cooperative coal-fired electricity projects, citing concerns about the uncertainties involved with the future cost of coal when restrictions are imposed on carbon dioxide emissions.

The decision, reported last month, "is another item in the steady drumbeat of doubt around the financial viability of building new coal-fired power plants," Kearns said.

LaDuke, who lives in Ponsford, said the Minnesota Department of Commerce, testifying on the need for electrical transmission to serve Minnesota customers of the Big Stone II plant, recommended that shareholders - not ratepayers - be required to pay for unexpected costs from burning coal.

"We're already a planet seriously jeopardized by our past energy choices," said LaDuke. She said the Big Stone partners instead should build a 1,000-megawatt wind farm. "We have the chance to do the right thing. I'm coming down there because I'm concerned."

Cris Kling, a spokeswoman for Otter Tail Power Co., the lead Big Stone II partner and a subsidiary of Otter Tail Corp., said project opponents are free to express their disapproval.

"We believe that we're doing the right thing for our customers, for our shareholders," she said.

At the meeting, Otter Tail will present a video of the Langdon wind farm in northeastern North Dakota, a project it helped build.

"It's going to take a balanced mix" of energy sources, she said.

The Big Stone II partners argue that, even allowing for carbon costs ranging from $4 to $30 per ton of carbon dioxide, the plant remains the cheapest alternative for meeting future electricity needs.

In separate gatherings, both Otter Tail shareholders and the opponents will meet at 10 a.m. in the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. The opponents plan to present Otter Tail executives with a basket of alternatives to burning coal to generate electricity.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522