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Minnesota Opinion: On the energy shift:

The demise Monday of the Big Stone II power plant could pose future power problems in the Upper Midwest.

The $1.8 billion, 550-megawatt plant was to use the latest technology as a clean coal power generating plant, fit to firm up the Upper Midwest's baseline energy for many years to come. The beginning of the end came late this summer when Fergus Falls-based Otter Tail Power Co. pulled out of a consortium of power companies working collectively to build the clean-coal plant.

Constantly embittered at every turn by environmentalist groups and lawsuits, the idea of building the next generation of coal-burning plants slid further and further away. But perhaps even more crucial to the demise of Big Stone II is the continuing quagmire in Washington, D.C., over climate change legislation. While a final bill has yet to be settled upon, carbon-emitted sources such a coal-burning plant could expect to pay huge penalties and fees under cap-and-trade policies. Prospects of high-priced energy also killed the project.

What next? Members of the consortium say that a decline in energy demand -- conservation -- is buying some time. Alternative sources are also being looked at. Natural gas, once thought in short supply, is more abundant through discoveries in shale. But how abundant is a serious question.

Montana-Dakota President and CEO Dave Goodin says the cooperative has a purchase agreement for power through 2015, but at what cost? ...

It's time for Minnesota to consider another clean energy -- nuclear.

Minnesota's current nuclear plants are aging, and Prairie Island is asking for a 20-year extension of its permit to operate. Minnesota has a law which pretty much prohibits even discussion of a new nuclear power plant, let alone lay out plans to build new nuclear power plants.

Efforts failed last year, but must be renewed by the 2010 Legislature to lift the ban on nuclear power plants in Minnesota. Today's technological advances can produce safe, efficient nuclear power plants.

Nuclear waste storage is still a problem, one that belongs to the federal government, which must come to grips with proper nuclear waste disposal.

In the meantime, as the last coal-fired power plants run their course in America, a new source of power must be found that can replace the lost baseline. Wind, solar and natural gas remain important, as well as conserving energy, but those policies must be build on grow out from a solid base.

Nuclear energy can be that strong base.

-- Pioneer of Bemidji