Doris Duke Foundation, you’re on the Legalectric radar again…

I wonder what Doris Duke would think about her foundation pushing coal gasification…

It’s that time of year again — the Doris Duke Foundation grants are due to be awarded. I was reminded recently while tooling down the road waiting for the Minnesota Public Radio report on the Public Utilities Commission meeting and decisions about Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project (note that Renee Sass is still MIA from their “About Us” page):

Iron Range Energy Project Dealt Another Setback

Reminded? How? Turns out the Doris Duke Foundation is an underwriter of news on MPR. Here’s their IGCC page:

Deploy and Develop Clean-Energy Technologies

Hmmmmmm… So let’s keep an eye on MPR news and see if Doris Duke Foundation comes up every time there’s something about the Mesaba Project.

Hey, Doris Duke Foundation, are you out there? When do grants come out this year? Have you figured out that coal gasification is one big losing proposition, “too risky for private investment” as the DOE says?

It’s good to see a state where the legislature has the sense to learn and think about what it’s voting on!  The Illinois General Assembly has rejected subsidies for coal gasification in a close but sufficient vote.  Given Illinois is a coal state, this is a strong slap to IGCC, which has been getting a free and uninformed ride for too long.

Taylorville coal plant supports continue despite setback

But thankfully they won’t have the legislature pushing along a project that cant stand on its own!

Energy bill fails in House

Posted May 31, 2008 @ 11:13 PM

A legislative proposal meant to encourage the development of Illinois’ “clean-coal” industry, including a Taylorville project, failed to muster enough support Saturday in the state House of Representatives.

The measure included provisions to assist a proposed $2.5 billion coal-gasification plant near Taylorville.

The bill also specified that the state’s goal is to have “cost-effective clean coal facilities” generate one-fourth of Illinois’ electricity by 2025.

But the vote on Senate Bill 1987 was 50-51, with 14 lawmakers voting “present.” It needed 60 votes to advance. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, used a parliamentary maneuver that could allow him to call the measure for a second vote later.

Many lawmakers had questions about the plan, and some of them said they were seeing it for the first time on Saturday. Several also said they believed the end result would be higher electricity prices.

“Why would we want to go down a path that’s going to increase the rates for the business community and no doubt, down the road, for the consumer?” said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

Hannig said the bill would simply have directed Tenaska Inc., which is behind the Taylorville project, to study how much it would cost to produce electricity by using Illinois coal in a coal-gasification operation.

Once that study was completed, the matter would have gone back to the General Assembly, which could have decided whether or not to go forward with the Tenaska proposal.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at 782-6292.

Did you see this: “The bill also specified that the state’s goal is to have “cost-effective clean coal facilities” generate one-fourth of Illinois’ electricity by 2025.” That’s absurd.  But they get it, that the result would be higher prices!

The story of the explosion at the Wabash River coal gasification continues to unfold. The two men killed were identified as Danny Turner and David Shoemaker. Terre Haute News has this report:

The two men, members of Boilermakers Local 374, were working about 150 feet in the air on the eighth deck of a coal gasifier, which is used in the process of turning coal into gas. The men were tightening bolts on the flanged opening, similar to a manhole cover, when the flange failed, causing an explosion, said Richard Payonk, plant manager.

“Our process runs at 400 pounds of pressure producing a synthetic gas, and consequently, when that flanged opening failed, it did release the contents of the gasification facility,” Payonk said. “At 400 pounds of pressure, that is a fairly violent release.

“At this time, we don’t have further information on the cause or root cause of that particular failure; that will come out in the investigation in days to come.


From a cohort in the know about gasifiers and emissions:

Welcome to the world of high pressure reducing gasification. That’s why I mentioned this possibility before. They call it an “explosion”, but it sounds more like a massive pressure release instead. What’s interesting is that they failed to disclose that while the “roar” continued for “5 minutes”, it was releasing 45-60% CO to the environment. If there had been a temperature inversion and low winds, many more people would have died within the “1/2 mile” radius they checked. MSI has this type of gasifier for DRI,and of course Mesaba I alone would be three to six times larger than Wabash (depends on standby status).

See if you can find out the cause of death of the workers. It might be (instant) CO poisoning (a much more typical accident unless there was a fire too).


Emergency response has always been a primary concern of Ron Gustafson, a member of, my client in our opposition to the Excelsior Energy proposal for the Mesaba IGCC project. He works on emergency response issues professionally, and knows enough about the inherent dangers and probabilities to challenge the adequacy of their plan, equipment, training, and funding for emergency response at the proposed Mesaba Project plant. In this case, the plant was evacuated, local responders were called, and the blast was felt miles away from the plant. We’ll learn more about what happened and what was required of first responders in the coming weeks. It sounds like plant management did all they could in a bad situation. As to causation, I’m wondering what the problem was they were working on, if there’s been a history of corrosion, bolt cracking or similar failures, and then why they were up there in the first place, tightening bolts, indicating that they were loose, when the plant was running.

Update on the explosion at the Wabash River IGCC coal gasification plant. This article from the Frankfort Times says that a metal fitting broke, pressurized gas leaked and ignited:

Explosion Kills 2 at Indiana Plant That Turns Coal Into Gas

Monday, April 28, 2008

WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) – A leak at a plant that turns coal into gas in western Indiana caused an explosion that killed two workers Monday, authorities said.

The explosion at the SG Solutions coal gasification plant occurred just before 11 a.m. when a metal fitting broke and released pressurized gas, plant manager Richard Payonk said. The gas ignited immediately.

Production at the plant stopped immediately after the explosion pending an investigation.

The workers who died were employees of Evansville, Ind.-based Sterling Boiler & Mechanical Inc. Payonk said about 15 to 20 Sterling employees work at the facility each day, and many are from the Terre Haute area.

The victims’ identities were being withheld pending notification of next of kin, Payonk said.

Sterling Boiler Controller Ken Wahl declined comment Monday beyond a company statement. In it, Sterling Boiler officials acknowledged the accident and offered condolences to the workers’ families.

Payonk said it is too early to know what might have caused the leak.

‘We will determine the nature of the failure and what occurred,’ he said. ‘And we will put corrective actions in place based upon what we can find.’

Here we go, deja vu all over again. Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project, the IGCC coal gasification project from hell is before the PUC on Thursday, April 10. There are issues in two dockets on the agenda (NOTE LINKS TO BRIEFING PAPERS):

**8. E-6472/CN-07-1640 Excelsior Energy

In the matter of the petition of Excelsior Energy, Inc. and MEP-I LLC for an Order concerning transmission infrastructure under Minn. Stat. 216B.1694

1. Should Excelsior’s petition be dismissed?
2. Should the Commission grant Excelsior Energy’s petition for the Commission to find that all transmission infrastructure associated with the Mesaba Project be exempted from the requirements for a certificate of need under section 216B.243, regardless of whether the Mesaba Project owner or any other transmission owner or person actually permits, owns, constructs, or oversees the construction of the transmission infrastructure associated with the Mesaba Project? (PUC: staff-briefing-papers – Fournier, Gonzalez, Mackenzie)

**9. E-6472/M-05-1993 – Phase II Excelsior Energy

In the matter of a petition by Excelsior Energy Inc. for approval of a Power Purchase Agreement under Minn. Stat 216B.1694, and determination of least cost technology and establishment of a clean energy technology minimum under Minn. Stat. 216B-1693: Should the Commission grant Excelsior’s request for an indefinite stay, pending further order of the Commission, of Phase II proceeding in this docket? (PUC: staff-briefing-papers-stay Fournier, Gonzalez, Mackenzie)

The transmission case is absurd, they’re wanting to claim rights to transmission without needing a Certificate of Need FOR A PROJECT THAT DOESN’T EXIST. How on earth can they claim transmission “associated with the project” when there is no project. How can the discussion get beyond that obvious issue? I filed a Motion to toss it out because it’s just so absurd. That’s the #1 question above. The #2 question goes to the merits of Excelsior’s Petition, which I think is somewhere we shouldn’t even bother going, that Excelsior’s request shouldn’t even get that hint of credibility. So here we go on that… what a waste of time.

The other issue is in the PPA docket, where they’re asking for a indefinite stay. My take? They can withdraw their petition any time they like, if they don’t want a decision. And of course they wouldn’t want a decision on the project, given the disdain for the project shown by the PUC over the last year, sojust withdraw it. Put us out of our misery, please. They can read the writing on the wall.

April 10, at the PUC, 121 – 7th Place E., St. Paul, meeting starts at 9:30 and we’re 8 and 9 on the agenda.

Pack a lunch!