KeystoneMap

595 arrested so far… There’s been a lot online about opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline for Tar Sands oil.

TAR SANDS ACTION

I’m looking at all of this and I’m wondering where the resistance was to the MinnCan pipeline, just one of our own tar sands crude oil pipeline through Minnesota.  Why is the Keystone XL pipeline project special?  Why are people waking up about tar sands pipelines?  Is it because Keystone XL is a “Presidential Permit” project at the Dept. of State?

MPIRG helped some of the landowners affected by MinnCan organize after they got very late notice they were potentially affected, but they lost bigtime, were denied intervention status by the ALJ because they were “late,” and then after it was permitted, booted out of the Appellate Court because they were not formal intervenors.  As they were in condemnation court for the pipeline, they got notice that they were targeted for CapX 2020 transmission.  At that point they became dyed-in-the-wool activists and joined with NoCapX 2020 as intervenors, in the Certificate of Need case and subsequent routing dockets for CapX transmission across Minnesota, right now in the Hampton-LaCrosse CapX 2020 routing docket .

For more info, here’s the MinnCan routing docket at PUC:

http://energyfacilities.puc.state.mn.us/Docket.html?Id=18339

Here is a link to a post with the Appellate decision:

Appellate court affirms PUC in pipeline appeal

Here are county maps, from Clearwater Co. down to the refinery in Dakota County:

http://energyfacilities.puc.state.mn.us/resource.html?Id=19000

And the Certificate of Need, go hear and search for docket “06-02” (year-docket no.)

https://www.edockets.state.mn.us/EFiling/edockets/searchDocuments.do?method=showeDocketsSearch&searchType=new

Here’re some other tar sands pipelines in Minnesota, completed:

The “Alberta Clipper” pipeline project:

http://energyfacilities.puc.state.mn.us/Docket.html?Id=19203

And another Enbridge “Southern Lights” oil pipeline project

http://energyfacilities.puc.state.mn.us/Docket.html?Id=19133

New office almost ready…

August 29th, 2011

I’ve been busy, glad for the state shutdown and a pause in a couple of big cases… and then there’s the time needed to recover from huffin’ the stripper, mineral spirits, and finish.  Tearing up the upstairs rugs is what got me laryngitis from dust, mold, cat piss, and whatever — NEVER AGAIN!!!  And special thanks to Billy & Steve for the beautiful job on the floors, what a difference!  More Before and Afters as we get it done, kitchen is next.  But first, back to work, gotta pay for all this somehow!

Before – Isn’t this blue, more darker blue and purple oppressive?  The whole house was like that, serious depression issues, no doubt!  Living room is so dark green that we need lights 24/7, not a workable premise, anyway, here’s the BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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What’s left?  I still have to strip the ugly flat purple paint off the quarterround, finish it and nail it in, but that’s less than a day’s work, and then haul the auction-procured furniture in, and move in box after box after box after box after box of utility permit crap, good thing most of it goes in a BIG closet in the other room, and good thing I’m not hauling it all over (though I am doing major winnowing) (don’t worry, Xcel, I’m not tossing out all your smoking guns!).  Note the Summer-grrrrrrl spec’d “Black & Tan” plastic area rug, just have to toss it out the door and hose it off on the roof.

Kitchen before:

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So far, it’s scraped and patched, almost ready to get rid of MORE awful blue, begging for a light yellow to perk it up, and that big area on the right, that former island cabinet is gone, replaced by two 1920′s base units, cleaned up, sanded, buffed and restored exterior and ready to paint the insides and screw together, and a nice 8 foot long butcher block counter on top, with some “Julia” pegboard and pot rack above.

Front bedroom in progress:

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SURPRISE – MORE AND DIFFERENT SHADES OF BLUE!!!!  The wall in the photo on the left is now a big archway into the “nursery” (yeah, right, we sure need that!) to open it up and the oppressive dark blue is lightening up, whew, it was so awful in there.  The carpet and padding is torn out and fueling the Red Wing incinerator (AAAAAAAGH!), all the thousands of nails and staples are out, the floors are sanded and finished, the walls are now antique white, and the woodwork is in the process of being stripped, but that job will suck, not nearly as easy as in that back room.

AWA Goodhue PUC Order is out!

August 24th, 2011

pickens0408

The T. Boone Pickens wind project in Goodhue County, masquerading as a “C-BED” project now has a formal permit issued by the Public Utilities Commission.  It’s LONG, and will take some serious study:

PUC Order – AWA Goodhue Wind Project Permit

Next?  Motion for Reconsideration – probably by ALL parties!

excelsior-yahoos

For background on this Excelsior Energy scam known as the Mesaba Energy Project, just search on that link and here on Legalectric for Excelsior, Mesaba, gasification, boondoggle, etc.!!!!

If you search their site, what is most noticeable is the changes, lots is missing, for example, on their “About Us” page, their “Our Team” is missing a lot of people.  Here’s what it used to say:

Excelsior Energy Print Page

Excelsior’s executive team has significant utility and power plant experience including all of the following aspects of large energy projects, planning, development, engineering, financing, permitting, construction and operation.

Executive Team
Julie Jorgensen Co-President and CEO
Thomas Micheletti Co-President and CEO
Thomas Osteraas Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Dick Stone Senior Vice President, Development and Engineering
Robert Evans Vice President, Environmental Affairs
Kathi Micheletti Vice President, Government Relations
William Ruzynski Vice President, Development
Mary Day Controller

Additional Senior Personnel

The following senior industry experts work with Excelsior Energy on a regular basis

Stephen Sherner Sherner Power Consulting
Bruce Browers Browers Consulting

It’s just a remnant of its former self.

Anyway,  the Duluth News Tribune articles were published:

Millions in public money spent, but Iron Range power plant still just a dream

Iron Range energy project seeks lifeline in more funding, new fuel source

… and then came some responses, first from the paper’s editors standing up against this boondoggle (finally!), and then from Julie and Tom:

Published August 23, 2011, 12:02 AM

Our view: Taxpayers have right to answers on Excelsior


What happened to our more than $40 million?

And what’s with the speculation that the dreamers of a coal-gasification plant on the Iron Range may come asking us for more cash?

Those are among questions outraged taxpayers could be asking — and ought to be asking — in the wake of a News Tribune investigation over the weekend into Excelsior Energy, which, after nearly a decade of planning, meetings and drawing from the public tap has yet to get off the ground and “has yet to move a shovelful of dirt to build its would-be 2,000-megawatt, $2.1 billion power plant,” as the newspaper’s Peter Passi reported.

Not only that, “Despite receiving virtually all of its backing from the public trough, the company’s spending records, including its officers’ paychecks, remain under wraps,” meaning a secret from all of us taxpayers footing a bill that stands at more than $40 million and counting, the News Tribune found.

“At the end of the day, this is a project that has not hired one full-time worker on the Iron Range. Only lawyers, lobbyists and professional meeting-attenders have gotten jobs,” Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township — and, disappointingly, the only Iron Range legislator who has ever really questioned the project — said in the two-day series.

Elected officials’ embrace of Excelsior can be understood. Seasoned, proven energy professionals brought the idea in 2001, right after LTV Steel Mining Co. closed; they promised hundreds of jobs, millions in investment dollars and a way to better use the nation’s domestic coal reserves without harming the environment.

Among the project’s problems, however has been the lack of a buyer for its power. Well-established Xcel Energy seemed a logical customer. But, like Minnesota Power, it objected to the project, warning it would drive up its customers’ rates. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission apparently agreed, refusing repeated pleas from Excelsior to compel Xcel to buy its power.

Nonetheless, elected officials and others with their fingers on the public purse strings haven’t been shy about dumping our money into it. Excelsior owes $9.5 million to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. It was supposed to start making loan payments 13 months ago but was given an extension to 2017. The company also received $10 million in state aid through the Minnesota Public Utility Commission’s Renewable Development Fund, despite objections from environmental groups about a plant designed to run on fossil fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy contributed another $22 million intended to cover half of the preliminary design costs, the investigation found.

And how much have Excelsior’s owners pumped into their own company? Only $60,000, according to public records. Meanwhile, their combined annual salary has risen to an estimated $600,000.

“Tracing where all Excelsior’s public money went and how it has been used is not easily accomplished, particularly after state lawmakers voted to restrict public access to Excelsior’s financial statements,” Passi reported. “Before 2008, reports the company is required to submit to the IRRRB as part of its loan agreement had been publicly available.”

Even then, what was reported often was incomplete.

And now Excelsior risks running out of steam entirely if it cannot attract additional investment from the public or private sector soon, as Monday’s story indicated.

Questions abound: Why didn’t elected leaders demand more spending scrutiny? Why has Rep. Anzelc been largely alone in waving a red flag? Why did state lawmakers vote to hide from the funds-providing public financial information? Why has there been no effort in the Legislature to provide more transparency, especially during the shutdown when every penny was being squeezed?

And, perhaps most pressing of all to taxpayers, what happened to our more than $40 million?

Here’s what Julie Jorgensen and Tom Micheletti had to say in response:

Published August 24, 2011, 12:00 AM

In response: Excelsior Energy project is an important energy option for state


By: Julie Jorgensen and Tom Micheletti, Duluth News Tribune

As co-CEOs of Excelsior Energy, we are writing to clear up inaccuracies and misconceptions about our company contained in an editorial yesterday (Our View: “Taxpayers have right to answers on Excelsior”) and in recent News Tribune articles (namely Sunday’s “Millions in public money spent, but power plant still just a dream,” and Monday’s “Project seeks lifeline in more funding, new fuel source”).

The Mesaba Energy Project, under development by Excelsior Energy, is a unique public/

private partnership selected through competitive solicitations for state and federal funding awards due to its contribution to national and state energy security and environmental goals.

We at Excelsior Energy take our obligations under our

public/private partnerships very seriously. We provide complete transparency to our funding partners as to how we use the funds provided, complying fully with the same rules, regulations and reporting requirements that apply to all other recipients. We maintain books and records that comply with both generally accepted accounting principles and the rigorous federal contracting requirements of the U.S. Department of Energy. We participate in weekly review meetings with the Department of Energy and are subject to annual external audits and periodic routine reviews and in-depth audits by the federal government.

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, or IRRRB, provided a portion of the project’s funding in the form of a loan to Excelsior under express conditions that the funds be used only to reimburse documented project-development costs. These conditions were complied with by Excelsior and strictly enforced by IRRRB. The project has not received funding from IRRRB for more than four years.

The funding and support from our state and federal partners has been critical to bringing the project to a very significant stage of development. The Mesaba Project is the only available alternative to provide new coal-

fueled power to meet Minnesota’s needs. All other new coal resources are subject to a state ban, as are new nuclear resources. Recently, the project received the first site and route permit issued by the state of Minnesota in more than 30 years for such a base-load power plant.

Because of its advanced technology, the plant will all but eliminate the pollution normally associated with coal. It will do so by cleaning up the synthesis gas produced from coal prior to using it. The flexibility to use natural gas first, and switch to coal when market prices dictate, provides a hedge to protect Minnesota consumers and businesses.

The high costs and extraordinarily long timeline to permit a base-load power facility, as reported in the articles, are unfortunate realities in today’s business climate. The costs and risks of complying with myriad regulations and requirements to obtain dozens of permits from multiple state and federal agencies in order to construct a facility are a major obstacle to building even the cleanest plant using the most state-of-the-art technology.

Proposed new coal plants around the country have spent similar amounts, and in some cases double or more the amount, cited by the News Tribune before being cancelled or put in the “too hard” pile.

The regulatory logjam on clean, new facilities does nothing to enhance our environment and harms any effort to create or maintain jobs in our state and nation. It threatens our global competitiveness in the long run.

The project is nearing the end of this complex governmental-

approval process and has much to show for it. We have certainly faced many challenges, as have many other entrepreneurial companies in this continuing recession. We believe the economy will turn the corner; and when it does, the state will need clean, domestic energy supplies to power the recovery.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s electric supply options are shrinking. The low-cost coal plants, surplus hydro and nuclear resources that have kept rates low in the past, can’t be relied on for our future. Many old coal plants currently serving Minnesota are expected to be shuttered in the next five years because they can’t meet new pollution-control requirements.

The hydroelectric power that Minnesota utilities have been planning to import from Canada may not come to fruition, as the costs and feasibility of the proposed new dams were brought under attack in a July report by the Manitoba Public Utilities Board. The cost of complying with nuclear regulations is on the rise after the nuclear crisis in Japan. Wishing that wind and conservation were enough is not a robust plan for the future.

We are proud to lead a small Minnesota business trying to put people back to work. We would like to thank all of the policymakers at the federal, state and local level who have afforded this project support through its ups and downs. We will continue to work to earn your trust and confidence. In addition, we will continue to advance the development of the Mesaba Energy Project and advocate for it as a clean, cost-effective, in-state option to meet Minnesota’s electric power needs.

Julie Jorgensen and Tom Micheletti are co-CEOs of Excelsior Energy Inc.



micheletti_1_mpr082216

For years and years, I represented mncoalgasplant.com opposing this wretched boondoggle of a pipe-dream of “clean” and “green.”

IGCC – Pipedreams of Green and Clean

The project lingers on, on life-support, and pulling the plug is long overdue.

The good news is that the Duluth News Tribune is finally paying attention, and looking into the financial irregularities.  Duluth News articles are here, and next will be some responses.

It started with an article in Duluth News Tribune, first in a series, the second below:

Published August 21, 2011, 09:40 AM

Millions in public money spent, but Iron Range power plant still just a dream


DNT investigation, part 1 of 2: When Excelsior Energy launched its ambitious, clean energy project in 2001, the company touted it as a way to bring much-needed jobs and investment to the Iron Range. But after nearly a decade and receiving more than $40 million in public money, Excelsior has little to show.

By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune

When Excelsior Energy launched its ambitious, clean energy project in 2001, the company touted it as a way to bring much-needed jobs and investment to the Iron Range at a time when local residents were still stinging from the closure of LTV Steel Mining Co. The innovative, state-of-the-art coal gasification plant also would enable the nation to more effectively tap domestic coal reserves with minimal harm to the environment.

But after nearly a decade and receiving more than $40 million in public money, Excelsior has little to show. While significant work has gone into developing site plans and engineering work and garnering permits, the company has yet to move a shovelful of dirt to build its would-be 2,000-megawatt, $2.1 billion power plant.

And despite receiving virtually all of its backing from the public trough, the company’s spending records, including its officers’ paychecks, remain under wraps.

“At the end of the day, this is a project that has not hired one full-time worker on the Iron Range. Only lawyers, lobbyists and professional meeting attenders have gotten jobs,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, the only Iron Range legislator who has opposed the project. “And it has all been financed by the public.”

Behind the delay

Heading Excelsior are two seasoned energy professionals: Tom Micheletti, a Hibbing native and former Northern States Power executive, and his wife, Julie Jorgensen, former CEO of CogenAmerica and VP of NRG Energy Inc.

Supporting them is another Iron Range legislator, Sen. Tom Bakk, D-Cook, who argues that cleaner ways of turning abundant domestic supplies of coal into electricity are greatly needed.

Bakk blames the development’s delay on Xcel Energy’s refusal to do business with Excelsior, with the established energy company intimating that power from the new plant could be too expensive and could drive up customer rates.

“There was clear legislative intent that Xcel would purchase their power, but Xcel has been unwilling to enter an agreement,” Bakk said. “Without an out-take agreement, the project has not been bankable.”

Excelsior has made repeated efforts to persuade the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to compel Xcel to buy its power, but has so far been unsuccessful.

Micheletti, who serves jointly with his wife as Excelsior Energy’s president and CEO, also said the project has suffered from unfortunate timing and the effects of a recession.

“Hardly anything is being built right now,” said Micheletti. “Load growth has come to a standstill, so there’s not a great deal of need for new facilities right now.”

Regulatory uncertainties facing the power industry have further complicated the plant’s outlook, Micheletti said, though he added that tougher regulation could help the project if it leads to the shutdown of older, dirtier coal-burning power plants or a shift away from nuclear energy.

Yet Micheletti said he’s stopped making predictions as to when Excelsior will build its first plant.

“It bothers me that, given the current economic situation, we’re not where we thought we’d be,” he said. “By now, 3,000 people would be working on the site if things had gone the way we thought.”

Public funding

From the start, Excelsior has relied primarily on public support, according to a 2008 audit by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor. The agency noted that excluding a small sum of private seed money, “the company initially relied mainly on Iron Range Resources loans for many basic costs it needed to operate, such as office space, desks and computers.”

In 2001, Excelsior borrowed $1.5 million from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Additional loans have brought that company’s IRRRB debt to $9.5 million

In August 2010, Excelsior was to begin repayment of its IRRRB loans, but the agency extended the timeline to 2017, in light of project delays.

The company also received $10 million in state aid through the Minnesota Public Utility Commission’s Renewable Development Fund, despite objections from environmental groups about spending such funds on a plant designed to run on fossil fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy contributed another $22 million, intended to cover half of the preliminary design costs.

The only public record of private equity in Excelsior occurred at its inception, when Micheletti and Jorgensen made a combined investment of $60,000.

Shuttered windows

Tracing where all Excelsior’s public money went and how it has been used is not easily accomplished, particularly after state lawmakers voted to restrict public access to Excelsior’s financial statements. Before 2008, reports the company is required to submit to the IRRRB as part of its loan agreement had been publicly available.

But that year, the Minnesota Legislature changed the state law, with a conference committee inserting language into an omnibus tax bill to classify financial disclosures made to the IRRRB.

Bakk, a member of that committee and also of the IRRRB’s board of directors, told the News Tribune he had no recollection of inserting the language and suggested the IRRRB itself may have requested the change.

Sheryl Kochevar, an IRRRB spokeswoman, confirmed that, justifying it to say the agency’s aid recipients should have “privacy protections that are similar to those a business would expect and receive when it is dealing with a bank.”

Kochevar said the IRRRB must approve all its loans and investments in a public meeting. After that, however, she said the agency will not disclose “nonpublic data about the business that it uses to monitor and protect its loan to or investment in the business.”

Bakk defended the IRRRB’s rationale, saying that if the agency required total transparency of the companies it assists, some might shun its aid, causing the Range to miss out on potential economic development opportunities.

But there is nothing stopping Excelsior itself from disclosing what it does with the public money it receives. Micheletti, however, refused to release that information.

“We do not and have never disclosed confidential private financial information, so that subject is off limits,” he told the News Tribune.

Charlotte Neigh, co-chair of Citizens Against the Mesaba Project, a group opposed to the plant, said the Legislature’s secrecy provision came on the heels of a complaint her group made about some of Excelsior’s uses of IRRRB funds that touched off an examination by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

The auditors found Excelsior had indeed used some IRRRB loan funds for inappropriate purposes, including lobbying. The company subsequently was required to repay $40,161.

Anzelc contends that any entity that has received so much public assistance ought to be more forthright about how it has spent taxpayer money.

“I believe they should tell us exactly what they’ve done with all the public dollars they have secured,” he said.

Limited view

Even when Excelsior’s financial reports to the IRRRB were still public, they sometimes provided scant detail.

A 2004 letter to the IRRRB Board of Directors from Freeberg & Freeberg Certified Public Accountants acknowledged gaps in Excelsior’s reporting.

“Management has elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures and the statements of cash flows and retained earnings required by generally accepted accounting principles,” the report said.

Still, the reports provided a limited view into how the company was spending its funds. As of the end of 2006 — the last year for which financial reports are public — Excelsior had spent $9.6 million on engineering and site development, $8.2 million on permits and regulatory work, $6.9 million on commercial, financial and administrative services and $7.9 million on in-house staff and consulting expenses since the project’s inception.

Some of these expenses were in the form of unpaid bills to be settled at a later date. A significant portion of that debt was owed to the husband-and-wife team at Excelsior’s core.

State funds from the IRRRB and the Renewable Development Fund could not be used to compensate Micheletti and Jorgensen. Even though they could not collect paychecks for the first several years of Excelsior’s existence, Micheletti’s and Jorgensen’s salaries were carried on the company’s books with the understanding that payments would be made when appropriate funds became available.

According to records, in 2001, the two drew a combined $125,000 in deferred pay. In August 2002, the deferred annual salary of each was increased to $250,000, or $500,000 for the pair. In 2003, they each received another $50,000 raise, bringing their combined annual pay to $600,000, where it remained through 2006, at the last time of public disclosure.

The first indication that Excelsior actually cut paychecks for Micheletti and Jorgensen can be found in 2006, when Department of Energy funds became available for the project. As of 2005, Excelsior owed the pair $2.49 million jointly. In 2006, that debt was reduced by $600,000.

Micheletti’s and Jorgensen’s deferred annual salaries totaled $600,000 each of the previous three years. And unless the co-presidents took a cut, Excelsior actually would have had to pay them $1.2 million in 2006 to reduce their total deferred pay by $600,000 in a single year.

How much more pay Micheletti and Jorgensen have received since 2006 has not been publicly disclosed.

Micheletti refused the News Tribune’s request to disclose how much Excelsior has paid its officers, saying, “As I have indicated to you many times before, our company, like all others, does not disclose confidential information, including confidential financial information.”

Part II of the Duluth News Tribune series on Excelsior Energy:

Published August 22, 2011, 12:30 AM

Iron Range energy project seeks lifeline in more funding, new fuel source


Despite receiving more than $40 million in federal and state government money, Excelsior Energy risks running out of gas if it cannot attract additional investment from the public or private sector soon.

By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune

* EARLIER: Millions in public money spent, but Iron Range power plant still just a dream

Despite receiving more than $40 million in federal and state government money, Excelsior Energy risks running out of gas if it cannot attract additional investment from the public or private sector soon.

Gone are state funds, including:

# About $9.5 million in loans it received from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, and

# $10 million from the Minnesota Renewable Development Fund.

Soon, Excelsior will burn through the more than $22 million in federal funding the Department of Energy earmarked to help develop its clean coal project on the Iron Range, according to financial records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by the News Tribune.

Those records show that as of Sept. 30, 2010, Excelsior had only about $1.9 million in unobligated DOE funds still available. The company had already spent more than 90 percent of the federal funding approved for project development.

And at what was then the company’s expenditure rate — consuming an average of $418,000 in grant funding per quarter in 2010 — Excelsior would exhaust the last of its federal aid before the end of this calendar year.

Tom Micheletti, Excelsior’s co-president and CEO, refused to discuss how much money the company has left or where it will turn next. Yet his confidence remained intact.

“We’ve got staying power to see our way through this,” he said.

Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, said he expects Excelsior will turn again to the IRRRB for more support. But IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich said there have been no discussions about providing aid to Excelsior beyond the loans that it already has received.

“I don’t anticipate any further request from them,” he said. “We’re watching to see what happens next, just like everyone else.”

Refueling

Unable to move ahead with plans to build a $2.1 billion power plant that would run on gasified coal, Excelsior received authorization from the Minnesota Legislature this past session to proceed initially with a plant fueled by natural gas.

Sen. Tom Bakk, D-Cook, supported Excelsior’s request.

“I think that if we allow Excelsior to start as a natural gas plant, it substantially increases the chance that it (the coal plant) will be built,” he said.

Bakk noted that a natural gas-fueled plant would rely on pre-existing rather than relatively untested technology.

“There’s much less risk from an investor standpoint,” he said.

Anzelc was the only Iron Range legislator to oppose the idea of allowing Excelsior to shift gears and build a natural gas plant instead of one running on gasified coal. He sees the change of plans as a last-ditch effort to throw Excelsior a lifeline.

“The majority of the Range delegation and the governor believe that this is the only way to get any of the $9.5 million in IRRRB funds back. You need to have an actual project that has permits and is constructed. You need a real company that makes a profit,” he said.

Nevertheless, as hard as it may be to accept the loss, Anzelc contends that walking away from Excelsior is the responsible thing to do.

At present, natural gas prices are comparatively low, making it a competitive fuel for power generation, said Julie Jorgensen, Excelsior’s co-president and CEO. Still, Excelsior needs to consider the long-term price outlook for both gas and coal, and Micheletti said the company is weighing its options.

“Do we go slow on one and faster with the other or vice-versa?” he asked. “Or do we proceed with both at once?”

Micheletti estimates a couple of 600-megawatt natural gas-powered units could be built for about $900 million. That’s less than half the anticipated cost of Excelsior’s proposed gasified coal plant. Also, permits for natural gas-fired generators are typically easier to obtain than for coal-burning plants.

One roadblock is that Department of Energy money earmarked for “clean coal” technology probably could not be used to help develop a natural gas plant, Micheletti said. Regardless, he said, Excelsior is in a unique position to push a power plant along quickly.

“Right now, we have the only viable new site for an energy plant in the Midwest because of all the work we’ve done,” he said.

But Anzelc said Excelsior still lacks one essential: a customer.

“To my knowledge, no on in the power business is supportive of this project,” he said.

Search for customers

While Micheletti said he could not discuss specifics because of confidentiality concerns, he said Excelsior is in active talks with potential customers. He said the company will push ahead with a project only when markets justify the investment.

“A lot of companies went bankrupt building on spec. We’re not going to build without a customer,” he said.

Pat Mullen, Minnesota Power’s vice president of marketing and public affairs, isn’t surprised that Excelsior is looking at alternatives to its plan for a gasified coal plant.

“Their original project was way too expensive, and it didn’t get any traction,” he said. “We didn’t want it and neither did Xcel.”

Xcel and Minnesota Power objected to the project, warning that it would drive up their customers’ rates.

Excelsior sought to compel Xcel to buy power from its plant through a power purchase agreement, but the Public Utilities Commission refused.

Even the revamped natural gas plant plan could be a tough sell, however.

Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said her company has been diversifying its energy portfolio to meet a state mandate that 25 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2025. The company recently signed a deal to purchase another 250 megawatts of power from Manitoba Hydro in 2020. But new fossil fuel energy is not in Minnesota Power’s plans.

“We’ve looked at the energy needs of our customers,” Rutledge said, “and it is clear we have no need for additional power from Excelsior.”

Xcel Energy has plans to retire two coal-burning units at its Black Dog plant in Burnsville, Minn., and replace them with natural gas units. To obtain permits for that project, the company was required to seek alternative proposals to supply 435 megawatts of power by 2016 or 2017.

But the July deadline has come and gone, and Patti Nystuen, an Xcel spokeswoman, said Excelsior did not submit a proposal and Xcel anticipates no need for additional generation.

Minnesota Power’s Mullen described what he considers “a flat market” for power generation,

But he’s not counting Excelsior out.

“You have to give them credit for their tenacity,” Mullen said.