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Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to require environmental impact statement on Summit Carbon pipeline

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission met on Jan. 5, 2023, to consider the application for Summit Carbon Solutions.

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The Green Plains ethanol plant at Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It is one of six Minnesota ethanol plants planned to be part of the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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ST. PAUL — In a compromise, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will require Summit Carbon Solutions to prepare a full environmental impact statement as part of the first ever carbon capture pipeline project in the state.

But the environmental impact statement will only be for a short portion of the pipeline project, about 28 miles in northwest Minnesota and will exclude the portion planned for west-central and southern Minnesota.

The scope of environmental review was one of the first key questions before the PUC on Thursday, Jan. 5, as it considers the permit application from Summit.

Summit so far has only filed a permit application in Otter Tail and Wilken counties to connect the Green Plains ethanol plant at Fergus Falls to a larger network of carbon capture pipelines, about 2,000 miles in five states. Summit’s plan is to gather greenhouse gases from ethanol plants and store the liquid carbon dioxide underground in western North Dakota.

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The proposed route of the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline through Otter Tail and Wilkin counties in Minnesota. The liquid carbon dioxide would flow west into North Dakota.
Courtesy / Summit Carbon Solutions

Summit officials say the project will benefit ethanol plants and the corn industry, allowing the plants to sell low-carbon ethanol in states with a clean fuel standard, such as California. Summit would be able to benefit from federal tax credits for carbon storage.

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Summit plans another five plants in west-central and southern Minnesota, but those plants will need to be part of a separate permit application.

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The Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline would connect six ethanol plants in Minnesota to a carbon storage site in North Dakota.
Courtesy / Summit Carbon Solutions

The Minnesota environmental group CURE — Clean Up the River Environment — had petitioned the PUC that all of the planned Summit pipeline in Minnesota be included in the same environmental review.

Summit argued that an environmental impact statement wasn’t necessary to meet the requirements of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act and a different environment review spelled out for pipeline cases would be sufficient.

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A group of farmers near Leola, South Dakota, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, say they are ethanol supporters but that the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline will cause them far more than what the company is paying for easements. They also say the lurking threat of eminent domain is inappropriate because the pipeline is not for a public utility. They think the long-term strategy of installing a pipeline to satisfy what may be of environmentally uncertain value is wrong, substituting their loss for likely a temporary gain for ethanol and pipeline investors.
"The easiest way to stop the carbon buildup is to quit burning fossil fuels, move to efficiency, green building and renewables. ... Instead of the common sense approach, there’s an even more crazy idea now, an awfully expensive set of experimental technologies .."
The decision means carbon pipeline companies must file for a siting permit with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Without statewide authority, permitting would have been left up to individual counties along the pipeline route.

But the PUC exercised its discretion to ask for an EIS, which would include a public comment phase. Commissioners approved the EIS requirement and other procedural steps in a unanimous vote.

Meanwhile, attorney Christina Brusven, representing Summit Carbon Solutions, told commissioners that the company was eyeing the first quarter of 2024 to start construction.

The company had previously said it planned to start construction on the $4.5 billion project in 2023 and be operational in 2024.

Summit has yet to acquire pipeline route permits in any of the five states on the route – Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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