One of the most controversial coal plant proposals in the country just took yet another big hit.

Minnesota’s two administrative law judges on the hearings for the Big Stone II plant in South Dakota, Steve Mihalchick and Barbara Neilson, recommended today that the state Public Utilities Commission deny a certificate of need for the plant’s transmission lines in western Minnesota. If adopted by the PUC, the ruling will kill the highly controversial project.

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According to the ALJs’ recommendation [PDF], the sponsors of the plant "have failed to demonstrate that their demand for electricity cannot be met more cost effectively through energy conservation and load-management measures …"

In September 2007, two of the co-sponsors of Big Stone II, representing about 27 percent of the plant’s capacity, pulled out of the project. The withdrawal rocked the project, but the remaining sponsors announced plans to redesign it and continue seeking permits.

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Today’s ALJ recommendation, which has been closely watched by the broad multi-state coalition that had gathered against the plant, is not curtains for Big Stone II — but we may be in the final act. The demise of the plant promises to unlock the huge wind potential of the Upper Midwest region, which to date has scarcely been tapped.