Judge to Xcel: Turn over Documents to the EPA

A federal judge ordered Xcel to turn over documents related to capital projects at two of its power plants within 30 days.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson on Monday issued a judgment ordering Xcel Energy, Inc., to hand over documents outlining plans for two of its power plants in Minnesota.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a lawsuit in June alleging that the Minneapolis-based utility had refused to provide information regarding planned construction at two plants operated by one of Xcel's subsidiaries, Northern States Power Minnesota.

Monday's order requires Xcel to turn over all documents related to capital projects at the Black Dog plant in Burnsville and the Sherburne County power plant in Becker within 30 days. The order also denied a request by Xcel to dismiss the suit by the EPA.

Due to their size and the amount of pollutants they emit, the two plants are considered “major emitting facilities” under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has issued 10 requests for information to Xcel based on its authority granted by the Clean Air Act, and the power utility “responded adequately” to eight of them, according to court documents.

The two remaining requests sought a description of “planned additional generation capacity installations” within the next 10 years and documents outlining future capital projects at the plants during the next five years.

Xcel contends that the requests for such information are outside the scope of the EPA's authority. In a statement issued by Xcel following the filing of the EPA's complaint, the company said that it has an “unwavering commitment to environmental excellence and full compliance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” but it said that this dispute does not involve environmental claims-it's about “the scope of the EPA's authority to seek information about potential future projects that may or may not be undertaken.”

Following Xcel's refusal to comply with the EPA's requests, the agency narrowed its request to only information regarding projects planned for the next two years, with periodic updates during the following three years.

In his order, Judge Magnuson described the EPA's modified requests as “reasonable” and “well within the bounds” of the agency's authority, although the request for five years worth of information is “a different matter altogether,” because it is outside of the agency's power to take part in influencing Xcel's planning process.

“We are pleased that the court limited EPA's authority to request future project information to two years,” Xcel said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. “If the EPA had started with this position to begin with, we wouldn't have needed to litigate this matter.”

Last week, Xcel's Black Dog facility in Burnsville temporarily closed after an explosion resulted in a small fire.

Xcel is Minnesota's 10th-largest public company based on its 2008 revenue, which totaled $11.2 billion. The company reported $9.6 billion in 2009 revenue.