Bakken BOOM and rail safety

April 17th, 2014

LacMegantic_QB Jesus blessing fire

There are more and more aspects of rail safety coming into question as people learn about life with the many Bakken oil trains rolling through our communities.

What about the greatly increased air emissions due to the increased rail traffic?  Locomotive emissions are regulated:

EPA Control of Emissions from Idling Locomotives 420f13050

The short version, from the EPA:

General Information

That regulates individual locomotives, but how are the cumulative impacts of so many trains addressed, particularly in the Mississippi River Valley, the “land of inversions?”

There’s continued talk about the new DOT111 rail cars, but how will that address the problem of volatility, that the Bakken crude contains a much higher level of gas than other crude, and that although regulators have said that the Bakken crude should be degasified before it is shipped, whether by rail or pipeline, this is not yet incorporated into standard practice.  And it bears repeating — this is an issue for Bakken crude in pipelines!  Pipelines are not a miracle cure for the Bakken crude volatility problem!

1-2-14 DOT Rail Safety Alert

It can happen here.  It has happened here.  It will happen here.  What do we do to protect ourselves?

This is a train incident in September, 2013 just across the river in Hager City, WI:

trainHagerCitySept2013

And in Red Wing:

train_derailment_red_wing3

A Wisconsin town’s fire chief was part of a discussion with U.S. Rep. Ron Kind recently regarding rail safety.  The station is one block from the river and the railroad tracks.  Congressman Kind asked the fire chief what the impact of a Bakken oil wreck would be on his community, if the fire unit could respond, and the fire chief said, “I doubt it, we’d be vaporized.”

If a Lac Megantic level explosion occurred in Red Wing, presuming that buildings two blocks from the explosion would be leveled, and maybe three blocks, it would reach to Main Street, and perhaps the block beyond:

RedWingDowntownMap

This is how it is in all the communities along the Mississippi River, a disaster waiting to happen for us, for the River.

There’s a reason it’s called the “Bakken Boom.”  BOOM!

LacMegantic_2

Untitled

This is the Hollydale Project proposed route, the one that Xcel Energy couldn’t demonstrate need for if their Certificate of Need depended on it, and it did, and they didn’t.  Hence their petition to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for withdrawal of Applications for both their Certificate of Need (12-113) and their Routing Permit (11-152).  I love it when that happens…

This was a great victory to get Xcel to acknowledge that this project was in trouble, that they couldn’t demonstrate need, not that they admitted it outright, but close enough.  The down side is that they are persistent, and when they want something, they keep trying, sometimes the same thing, sometimes something different.  What will they do here?  Who knows, but I doubt they’ll disappear.

There was a surprise filing letter and proposed decision option sent by Paula Maccabee on behalf of WPNA at 8:37 a.m., less than an hour before the meeting began, and half an  hour after we’d already left for St. Paul, first I learned of it was when it was passed out at the meeting.

WPNA Decision Recommendations

Here are the changes that were requested:

D. Future Filing Requirements

2. Require the company to file a discussion on their public outreach efforts and an update on improvements made to the load serving capacity of the distribution system serving the area six months from the date of the order granting withdrawal and quarterly thereafter.

I don’t get it… why?  And no, that doesn’t work.  Where Xcel is saying they’ll be back, after developing a more palatable option through discussions with stakeholders, why eliminate the disclosure of its “public outreach efforts?   Thankfully, this was not adopted.

From Xcel’s filings, it’s clear that the Hollydale Project is “desired,” strongly desired, despite that it’s not “needed” in any criteria-based sense.  Xcel wants this project so badly that it has stated that if permitted to withdraw this application, it is coming back, and that:

The residents of Plymouth and Medina, as well as other key stakeholders, have expressed serious concerns about the potential impacts of this Project…

… that “it may take some time to collaborate with stakeholders on developing a new solution…”     

… and that it “intends to work with the community and stakeholders on developing a more widely supported electrical solution…”

Withdrawal Comments January 29, 2014

Xcel Reply Comments February 19, 2014

Those words get me more than a little concerned, particularly where at a meeting organized by Commerce at Plymouth City Hall, after we’d gone around the room in introductions, Sen. Bonhoff said, very pointedly to me, “Who are you?”  “Why are you here?”  “Who is the Barry Family?”  I got the idea that she though I shouldn’t be there, that it was to be a more private party, and I shouldn’t have been invited.  And yesterday, a woman present in support of WPNA asked the same questions.  Hmmmm… Oh well.  We’re parties to this party!

This Hollydale Project was an odd project, in ways that weren’t fully addressed in the proceeding:

  • First is the inherent legal definition of transmission – this project, as proposed, would change this line from a relatively unregulated 69 kV line to a highly regulated “High Voltage Transmission Line” as defined in statute.
  • The project as proposed represents a significant physical and electrical change, from an inactive 69 kV line to a high capacity HTVL that is an operating part of the grid.
  • This project would require a change in ownership – Xcel is requesting to buy the easement, gain the powers that ownership of easement interests represents, and planned to use the easement to build a line of a very different character than what was built under the original easement.
  • This project would change the purpose of the line through Plymouth and Medina, from a purpose of rare emergency backup for the local distribution system, to a high capacity grid support for the 345 kV system.

Now the application has been withdrawn.  Xcel says it’s going to work collaboratively to come up with a “new solution.”  Let’s see what happens next!

Xcel’s request for withdrawal of its Hollydale Transmission Project Certificate of Need and Route Permit Application is before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission tomorrow.  We’re 4th on the agenda.  Come on down, or watch it live!

Live Webcast

Public Utilities Commission Meeting
PUC Large Meeting Room
121 7th Place East, Suite 350
St. Paul, MN

Agenda

And look how a decision came down in Chino, California!  There was a transmission line through the community for a long, long time, and it was “inactive” for a long, long time.  Then one day, the utility started taking down the towers that weren’t being used, and stuck new bigger ones in their place.  Thankfully, the story didn’t end there — they had to take the poles down and underground that transmission line:

Chino Hills wins battle against So Cal Edison

 

Here’s the Chino Hills group’s website:

Hope for the Hills

Progress!

April 8th, 2014

mudroom1

The primer stuck on the walls!  YES!!!  And the new paint is sitting there in the corner waiting, “Stream of Silver” for the walls, to match the grease and such, and “White Lullaby” for the ceiling, but lots of plastering up there, so that may happen first, before the walls are painted.

A van load over to the scrap yard, and another van load over to the Humane Society’s garage sale, and… sigh… I gave up all my truck stuff, a coffee pot, cooking pot, and my CB!  It’ll be there at the sale, the end of an era… sigh…  I still have my license, and in cleaning out the office, I found my file box full of directions which I still haven’t thrown out (if you want to know how to get to Jacmar Sales in Alhambra, CA, or Seaside Cold Storage in Hayward, CA, well, just let me know!).

It’s so nice to have a little time off to get these stupid things done!

A simple project — NOT!

April 6th, 2014

DSC00197-reduced

The mudroom has been driving me crazy, the color is this dark depressing BLUE, and we tore out the awful laminate flooring that was in there, the vinyl underneath isn’t too bad, so in went the toilet, in went the washer dryer… oh, and did I mention that during that project, we found the “bonus room” underneath — a coal bin 1/2 full of coal!!!  Holiday gifts for all my friends!  But the blue of this room has persisted, same blue that my office was before I painted it and stripped the darker blue and purple off the woodwork, but been there, done that, and now on to the mudroom.

Mudroom1

… and now, to get rid of those ugly blue walls now that it’s warm enough to paint.  Something green/grey to make the floor look greenish flecked, not so grey.  No problem, so I thought, until I scraped at a few bumps on the wall, and two layers of paint fell off, it’s just in the middle, not way at the top and not way at the bottom.  Go figure.  So now it’s an utter mess, but scraped, sanded, patched, and tomorrow, sand some more, and slap on the primer.

mudroom

It’ll look better soon… floor cleans up well, need to put the quarterround in, and it’ll be painted, at least this corner and to the right where the dog food bin goes, and put up a cabinet here way up to the ceiling, and a shelf for all the crap that comes in the door and ends up on the “dog station” just inside the kitchen.  There’s a snazzy RED double decker toolbox below — but maybe grey spray paint is called for… what to do…).  And then after it’s all painted, the little sink goes in the far corner.