IGCC is dead, dead, dead

April 21st, 2007


In the Sunday STrib (good stuff in the paper lately, they must be working hard to counter the recent axeing of so many class A people):

   “Dead, dead, dead,” said Carol Overland, lawyer for a group of northern Minnesota landowners opposed to the Excelsior project.

“It was on life support before,” she said. “The plug has been pulled and we’re waiting for the inevitable.”


Crunch time for coal-gas plant

More arguments are ahead before the Excelsior Energy plant on the Iron Range gets a no or a go from state regulators on the first major power plant proposed in Minnesota in three decades.

By Mike Meyers, Star Tribune

It’s become do or die by July for one of the largest economic projects ever proposed for the Iron Range.

Between now and then, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will collect one last round of arguments from proponents and opponents of a $2 billion-plus coal-gasification plant near the city of Taconite. The plant would also be the first large-scale power plant built in the state since the 1970s.

The plan recently received a stinging rejection from two administrative law judges who are key advisers to the PUC on the plan.

“It’s fair to say the commission gives a great deal of weight to an administrative law judge decision? Yes,” PUC spokesman Burl Haar said. “Do they always follow it? No.”

The husband-and-wife team leading Excelsior Energy aren’t planning any revisions to win over the state regulators. No changes in design. No cutting what they would charge for power. No alterations in the way they will deal with greenhouse gases.

“We’re not going to redraw the blueprints,” said Julie Jorgensen, who shares the titles of Excelsior chief executive and president with her husband, Tom Micheletti.

The price Excelsior is asking Xcel Energy to pay for power is the price needed to make the plant viable, Jorgensen said.

“There’s no fudge factor here,” she said.

Opponents of the Excelsior plant, who argue that it’s not needed, is too costly and offers a sketchy plan for disposing of greenhouse gases, see the judges’ decision as fatal to the project.

“Dead, dead, dead,” said Carol Overland, lawyer for a group of northern Minnesota landowners opposed to the Excelsior project.

“It was on life support before,” she said. “The plug has been pulled and we’re waiting for the inevitable.”

Among the judges’ conclusions: The plant is not as new or innovative as promised, its power would cost more than alternative sources of electricity and its plans to keep some plant-generated carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere would cost more than $1 billion.

Jorgensen and Micheletti argue that the judges were mistaken.

Xcel also argues that the power is not needed.

In 2003, however, the state Legislature said Xcel will have to buy the power from the plant if the PUC finds the plant in the public interest.

The coal-gasification technology, which Excelsior described as innovative, transforms pulverized coal into a cleaner-burning gas. But in testimony before the law judges, critics said the Excelsior design was not environment-friendly and would generate as much greenhouse gas as any other coal plant. The law judges agreed.

“The record was closed when an independent group said the Excelsior plan is innovative,” Micheletti said.

He cited a trade group announcement last month by the Electric Power Research Institute certifying the Excelsior plant as the first coal-gasification project in the nation to issue “pre-design” specifications that can be used as a template for other projects.

State law gives regulators leeway on approving power plants, even if they’re not the lowest-cost way to get electricity, if they’re innovative and offer environmental and other benefits.

Jorgensen and Micheletti also will argue to the PUC that regulators should not compare the cost of energy from Excelsior with conventional coal plants — which are less expensive but produce more pollution and which Xcel has vowed not to build in the future.

“We find ourselves shadow boxing,” Jorgensen said of his project being compared with older technology that has no future in Minnesota.

She also said Excelsior is plans to divert 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced at its plant to pipelines headed for North Dakota and Canada. Oil producers would buy the CO2, a greenhouse gas associated with global warming, to build up pressure in oil fields to help pump out petroleum, she said.

The net cost of the pipeline, after subtracting revenue from CO2 sales, would be far less than $1 billion estimate cited by the judges, Excelsior officials said. They offered no alternative number.

Opponents aren’t impressed by those arguments, however.

Overland said Excelsior has made no clear commitment to building a CO2 pipeline and, even if it did, 70 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the plant still would escape into the atmosphere. In that event, the plant would be almost as great a contributor to global warming as a coal plant, she said.

Janette Brimmer, legal director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said Excelsior developers are offering no binding assurances for dealing with greenhouse gases.

“When they flip that switch on, there’s no CO2 being eliminated. It’s just another coal plant,” she said.

Mike Meyers • 612-673-1746 • meyers@startribune.com 

One Response to “IGCC is dead, dead, dead”

  1. Nancy Prehn Says:

    Way to go Carol! We need more people like you working on these issues.

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