Sibley farmers lose attempt to stop NSP plant

ST. PAUL — The Governor’s Environmental Quality Council (EQC) by a 4 to 1 vote Tuesday selected Henderson as the state’s recommendation for the next electric generating plant to be constructed by Northern States Power Company.

The decision culminates eight months and 1800 man hours of work by volunteers on a task force and state departments. The task force of the EQC said in December it could not make a decision between Henderson and a site in Sherburme county and asked the EQC to make the final decision.

In making the motion to recommend the Henderson site,the Department of Natural Resources had Robert Herbst point out NSP will still have to seek licenses from his department and the Pollution Control Agency to build the plant near Henderson.

The EQC’s decision simply tells NSP where the state would prefer to have the plant built. The decision is not binding on the utility company, but Roland Comstock of NSP said after the 3-1/2 hour meeting that NSP would probably go ahead and set the wheels in motion to construct the half a billion dollar plant in Sibley County.

Eight months ago when NSP announced it would need a major electric generating plant in operation by 1979 the utility announced it was considering 68 sites of which 7 were preferred. Henderson was one of those preferred. So was Swan Lake in Nicollet County, but it did not become a finalist.


THE DECISION was not an easy one for the EQC. In addition to internal disagreement on the site location among the five members, over 200 Sibley county residents living in the power plant area jammed the auditorium in the state office building.

Kenneth Narr, who farms one mile east of Arlington, acted as a spokesman for the group. Saying the site would displace over 40 farms and farm homes, Narr presented the EQC with a petition signed by 416 people opposed to the plant who live in the 6 mile radius of the site. Narr said this was over 90 per cent.

Narr then indicated the proponents of the site in the county were really pseudo-proponents who signed the petition favoring the site because someone said the power plant would bring lower taxes. He then showed several newspaper articles from the county papers which pointed to the tax windfall for Sibley County if the plant was located there.

Narr was seemingly critical of the county papers, many of which are west or upwind of the site, for not presenting all the facts on the homes displaced and the environmental effects. He said the opposition would have been much greater had everyone known what was going on.

“The Henderson site is out!” Narr exclaimed, “we will fight it every way we can. NSP will have to get every inch of land by condemnation.”

Gordon Bates lived in Minneapolis before buying a farm near Green Isle. He said he chose Sibley County because it has some of the richest farmland in the nation. Bates said this land should not be destroyed by a power plant.

William Hardges, Jr. of Green Isle has been a dairy farmer all his life and said, “We are all concerned about the people in the Twin Cities, we really are.” He then asked why buildings and freeways in the Twin Cities have to be lighted at night.

Senator Earl Renneke of Gaylord said it was difficult to decide which side to support. He said three of NSP’s original sites were in his senate district. He thought maybe the decision should be put off for awhile.

Representative August Mueller of Arlington then took the microphone saying, “If it was not needed (the plant), I don’t think they (NSP) would be asking for it.”

Mueller is known to support the Henderson site. He said that it shouldn’t be an emotional issue as we have to make sure there is enough energy. For that Mueller earned some boos and hisses as he walked back to his seat.


ACTUALLY the meeting was not a public hearing, but simply called to make a decision by the five departments involved. Each department head spoke and ultimately gave that department’s recommendation.

First, state planning agency director Gerald Christensen gave the background saying that Minnesota does not have the authority to site a power plant. He explained the arrangement had been a cooperative one between the EQC and NSP. Then Christensen said it was the planning agency’s feeling that the Henderson site was the best on all accounts — air quality, water quality, highway safety and water availability.

NSP already has a large power plant under construction in Sherburne county. The feeling is that another plant might hurt air quality in the Twin Cities as well as in St. Cloud and Red Wing.

The disagreement began when Grant Merritt, head of the Pollution Control Agency, asked if the plant should be built at all. Calling the decision the biggest in the two years he has headed the PCA, Merritt said, “Continuing the present growth rate will be a physical impossibility; it will be impossible to continue along the present path of electrical energy consumption.”

Merritt said neither alternative was an “acceptable conclusion” and offered a resolution urging the governor to ask NSP to delay applying for state permits for a power plant for one year. In this time Merrit said the state should “get cracking on an energy conservation program.”

That motion died for the lack of a second at which time Merritt said the Henderson site “was a serious mistake.” He said he would have to withhold reservations and reluctantly support the Sherburne County site. NSP already owns the land in the county and the new plant would be located next to the plant already under construction.

Herbst said he favored Henderson with the understanding the utility would have to meet all state licensing requirements. Ray Lappegaard of the Highway Department also supported Henderson as did Dwayne Scribner of the governor’s office.

With that,all but Merritt voted to support the Henderson site.


THE PLANT will be the largest of NSP’s system, 1600 megawatts, and will be located in Jessenland township, five miles east of Arlington on about 2,000 acres.

Cooling in the plant would be accomplished by mechanical cooling towers, and the plant site would have only a 100 acre emergency water supply at the actual site.

NSP proposes the makeup of a 950 acre reservoir 50 miles upstream by damming the Little Cottonwood River east of New Ulm. The reservoir would extend into parts of Cambria and Cottonwood townships in Blue Earth and Brown counties.

When the water supply at the Henderson site got low, water would be released from the larger reservoir into the Minnesota River. When it reached Henderson, it would be pumped to the plant, located a few miles northwest of the city.

This reservoir just outside New Ulm might provide recreational benefits according to earlier NSP reports. The reservoir would be 3,000 feet wide at the widest point. The utility would buy all land adjacent to the reservoir because it is responsible for its management.

NSP indicated it would give its formal approval in the next few days to the Henderson site.

The plant would eventually pay $11 million in property taxes, said NSP.

New Ulm Daily Journal, Jan. 31, 1973


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