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Environmental Studies

CU Powerline & Activism



Organization Begins

Citizen Action

Response & Alternatives

Why History Matters

Links & Resources


Response & Alternatives


      Who sacrifices, who benefits, and who decides?  The farmers of Western Minnesota sacrificed so that institutions like the UPA and CPA could thrive and the insatiable energy appetite of an energy-fat America could be fed.  The utilities planned the power-line; the government acted like their partners on the project.  The farmers felt like outsiders looking in while government planners assisted corporate planners in carrying out their program.  When the power companies encountered a hitch, as in Pope County, the state government was there to overcome the opposition. [1] Both the CPA and UPA grew enormously as organizations throughout the process of implementing the CU Project.

   At a public hearing in Alexandria, Jim Nelson said, “The best solution would be no line at all.  If the power companies could quit pushing usage of power and start pushing conservation of power, then they could have a little extra time off looking into alternatives.” Conservation was the most popular alternative to the CU Project.  Also, Charles Carson, a well-known environmentalist from Grant County urged committee not to neglect the question of need: “I know that electricity is a wonderful thing; it helped rural Minnesota a great deal…But any good thing can be carried too far…Stripmining Dakota and urbanizing Minnesota are not boons, and our descendants as well as ourselves will curse the day these things are done.” [1]

   Although this may not have been well-liked by the energy cooperatives, one alternative strategy to building the project would have been purchasing power from other utilities in the short term and then reducing demand through conservation and alternative energy sources.  Also, the farmers proposed an adversary forum to deal with the full range of relevant issues, with adequate funding for all sides to present their cases effectively and cross-examine the others’ witnesses. [1] Because the farmers had limited resources, they were unable to hire lawyers, research, and organize to their full potential.  Most of the protesters had families and farms to tend to and that didn’t leave a whole lot of time for resistance.  Another factor in the decision was the science court, a concept developed in 1976 by Arthur Kantrowitz, a physicist heading a White House task force.  The court:

  1. Identified the significant questions of science and technology associated with a controversial public policy issue and leave out political, ethical, questions. 
  2. Had an adversary proceeding presided over by a panel of impartial, objective scientist-judges
  3. Had a panel of judges issues judgments about scientific facts pertaining to disputed technical questions

   The Ford Foundation gave a $5,440 grant for the science court to examine the health and safety aspects, one concern of farmers, but the science court did not have ample time to completely study the scientific and health effects of the HVDC transmission lines.  Another weakness of the science court is the expert/lay division, and the lack of politics, ethics, and even community in determining the scientific questions studied. [1]

   The Coal Creek Station faced great opposition, but throughout the last thirty or so years it has been recognized for its environmental performance. According to the Great River Energy website, “Protecting the environment has always been a priority at Coal Creek Station. Since the power plant was built, approximately $200 million has been invested in environmental equipment in order to ensure the best available technology. This helps maintain Coal Creek Station’s status as one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the region.  Great River Energy continues to look for ways to further reduce emissions at Coal Creek Station, and in the adjacent coal fields, all mined land is reclaimed at a cost of $20,000 per acre, with restored cropland required to equal or exceed original production.  As a result of all these efforts, both the plant and the Falkirk Mine have been recognized time and again for excellence in environmental stewardship. [2] Coal Creek Pic

[1] Wellstone, Paul, and Barry M. Casper. Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War. Mineapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
[2] "Coal Creek Station." Great River Energy April 2008 <>.


Figure 14: Powerlines in the distance of a corn field.

Figure 15: Coal Creek Station [2]

Last updated:  5/6/2008


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