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Tribune Editorial: Cheers to PUC for acting in favor of Big Stone II

It's been a brutal winter so far -- heavy snowfall and long periods of temperatures well below zero.

It's been tough and sometimes stressful on residents and business owners, but think how much worse it would be if the power grid wasn't reliable.

Without dependable baseline power -- and that largely means power plants fired by natural gas, coal, or nuclear energy -- reliable electricity could be a thing of the past in a few years.

That would mean brownouts, blackouts, and energy rationing. Not a good thing when it's 37 below.

That's why it's good news for this area that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved transmission line upgrades needed for the Big Stone II coal-fired power plant.

The South Dakota-based plant will serve a large chunk of west-central Minnesota, including Detroit Lakes, Moorhead and areas served by Otter Tail Power Co.

Unfortunately, the PUC approval came with conditions, including construction cost and potential future carbon dioxide cost targets that affect Otter Tail Power.

It's not yet clear whether the conditions will force Otter Tail Power out of the partnership that wants to build Big Stone II, or whether the project will go forward without Otter Tail.

Otter Tail says it will wait until it sees the written conditions from the PUC, a process that usually takes about a month. Than it will decide its next move.

Minnesota environmental groups are unhappy with the PUC's decision.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, the Izaak Walton League of America, Wind on the Wires, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as groups like Clean Up our River Environment, Clean Water Action, Dakota Resource Council and Sierra Club-North Star Chapter, have waged a grass roots effort in Minnesota, South and North Dakota the past four years. All were dismayed by the PUC's decision.

They are right to be worried about climate change, but it's not fair to use that as a reason to deny residents in this area dependable baseline power.

It's a global problem that needs to be solved on the national level --?not piecemeal -- and we wish President-elect Obama great success with it.

But not all power plants can be run with natural gas -- that would cause the price of natural gas to skyrocket.

And wind and solar power are great supplements to the power grid, but they can't yet provide baseline power.

So we applaud the Public Utilities Commission for acting on facts, not hyperbole, and moving to keep the lights -- and home heat -- on in Minnesota.