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Nemadji Trail Energy Center (copy) (copy)

Dairyland Power Cooperative and Minnesota Power want to build a $700 million, jointly owned natural gas power plant, pictured in this illustration, in Superior.

Dairyland Power Cooperative is asking Wisconsin utility regulators for permission to build a $700 million, jointly owned natural gas power plant in Superior.

The La Crosse-based cooperative submitted an application to the Public Service Commission Tuesday for the 625-megawatt Nemadji Trail Energy Center, which would be jointly owned and operated by Minnesota Power.

If approved, construction would begin in 2021 and the plant would go online in late 2024.

Dairyland says the plant will support the addition of 200 megawatts of renewable generation and help reduce its reliance on coal-fired electricity to less than half of total capacity by 2026. But opponents of the plant in Minnesota argued both utilities have enough existing resources to balance intermittent sources like wind and solar.

Because it is being proposed as a merchant plant — meaning the costs would not be borne by Wisconsin ratepayers — the PSC cannot consider costs, need or alternatives.

Minnesota regulators narrowly approved Minnesota Power’s participation in October over objections from clean energy organizations, consumer advocates and large industry groups.

An administrative law judge in July recommended against authorizing the project, saying it was not in the public’s best interest and that Minnesota Power failed to show the plant is “needed and reasonable.”

Dairyland, with $1.6 billion in generation assets, provides electricity for about 258,000 customers of 41 member cooperatives and municipal utilities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.