The Waltons and Coal and ME2 !!

November 15th, 2005

It’s been a very “interesting” week, in the Chinese sense, particularly for someone like me who’s jawing about everything at a time when jawing in any way whatsoever is excruciating. FINALLY, my stitches are out and the swelling is down and I’m weaning myself off a 2-3 pack a day habit of frozen juice/fruit bars.

Remember that front page piece in the Sioux Falls paper about a deal to put up some wind and add pollution control equipment to Big Stone II and slide through transmission? Deal opens door to wind power


There’s more:

Check the most recent ME3 newsletter (scroll down) : Proposed coal plants threaten energy system innovation
ME3 regional partnership tackles global warming, promotes clean energy solutions
You’d have a hard time guessing what it means because it’s so vague.

And Neil St. Anthony had an interesting piece on coal last week. It’s all connected!

Cleaning up coal: Promising new, cleaner technologies

A group of strange bedfellows banded together to look for clean answers to the region’s energy potential.

Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune

Several big, coal-fired power plants are proposed for construction over the next decade in the Upper Midwest, and an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, utilities and regulators is quietly working toward a “clean-coal” future.

The ultimate goal: a path toward technologies and licensing standards designed to eradicate vexing greenhouse gases that are the bane of coal-fired plants.

“What’s different about this group is that we have very strange bedfellows at the same table,” said Betsy Engelking, manager of resource planning at Xcel Energy Inc., the biggest utility in the neighborhood. “It shows the conundrums. But as we look at our energy future — the price of gas going up and the risks around foreign oil imports — we’ve got a great group that’s willing to come together and talk instead of fighting it out in a courtroom over a plant.”

Of course, a court challenge could happen, Engelking acknowledged, but in the meantime, “We’re talking.”

In short, there’s an estimated 300 years’ worth of coal sitting under the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. It’s cheap, secure energy compared with the oil and natural-gas fields of the Middle East. And with known U.S. oil and natural-gas reserves declining, the stuff isn’t getting any cheaper.

“We’re not saying don’t burn another ton of coal,” said Bill Grant, associate executive director of the Izaak Walton League. “It’s not practical.”

But existing technology, which can scrub some of the deadly mercury and other pollutants from the combustion process, doesn’t stop the production of carbon dioxide — a leading source of greenhouse gases. (Auto and truck emissions are the other major source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.)

Most scientists say greenhouse gases are warming the planet in dangerous ways. Litigation already has spilled beyond environmental groups. Attorneys generals in several Eastern states are suing Ohio and utilities that operate pollution-spewing plants, charging that they’ve done hundreds of millions in environmental and health damage.

The good news is, there are promising technologies.

“Integrated gasification-combine cycle technology” is designed to chemically remove the carbon dioxide before combustion. That technology is estimated to add 20 percent to the cost of a new plant, but it could prevent a host of downstream issues.

And there is potential for direct economic benefit as well. The captured carbon dioxide in a demonstration project in North Dakota is being piped to pressurize a depleted oil field in Canada that’s now producing more oil.

The “Coal Gasification Work Group,” put together by the Great Plains Institute (, a public policy platform based in North Dakota and Minneapolis, is charged with developing recommendations in 2006 for several Upper Midwest states, said Brad Crabtree of Great Plains.

“We can be a worldwide pioneer, a regional project that can help solve a national issue,” Crabtree said. “There’s an urgency about this in the industrialized world. If we get this right, the market for clean coal will come to us.”

The Great Plains group will prepare a “coal roadmap” for the region — which contains half the coal reserves in the United States.

It will make recommendations in support of advanced technologies and specific projects that demonstrate the combustion technology, carbon capture and geologic storage, as well as integrating advanced facilities with enhanced transmission and wind-energy development.

Environmentalists and industry folks are saying the first test case — it may end up being the first battle — will be over the plans of Great River Energy and its partners to build the proposed Big Stone II plant in South Dakota that would bring coal-fired power to the Twin Cities.

The $1.2 billion Big Stone II plant, when combined with the smaller Big Stone I plant in eastern South Dakota, will generate less mercury and other pollutants than Big Stone I generates today, thanks to waste-heat usage, pretreatment of the coal and advance scrubbers that will be installed in both units.

However, that won’t mitigate the carbon dioxide emissions.

Great River CEO Dave Saggau has said he believes new technologies are too far off to be included in Big Stone II, which is scheduled to start construction in 2007.

Environmental groups plan to fight the necessary construction and transmission permits before state regulators next year in Minnesota and South Dakota.

They will insist that it’s foolish to proceed with old, pulverized-coal technology and that the plant can wait until carbon-capturing technologies are in place.

It could prove to be a watershed case.

Mike Gregerson, an engineering consultant and former plant-licensing executive at Xcel who is part of the clean-coal work group, said utilities don’t want to put an undo burden on their ratepayers. But they want government to lay down the rules so they aren’t vulnerable to millions in damages from lawsuits later.

“The utilities and the regulators need some help on the technologies and the regulations and the costs so they can make the leap” Gregerson said. “The clean-coal working group can work the issue along.”

As a pilot project, Xcel is planning a 100-megawatt clean-coal plant in Colorado next year that also should yield a lot of answers.

Neal St. Anthony â?¢ 612-673-7144 â?¢

More than a few eyebrows are up, and the listserves are filled with questions that inquiring minds are asking. Here’s their explanation of what they’re doing:
Upper Midwest Dialogue on Coal Gasification, Carbon Sequestration and Related Wind and Hydrogen Development

Just who all is involved here? Look at the membership of this workgroup.

PTP Coal Gasification Working Group Participant List

Nongovernmental Organizations

* Steve Brick, Associate Director, Energy Centerof Wisconsin, Madison, WI
* Bill Grant, MidwestDirector, Izaak Walton League of America, St. Paul, MN
* Mark Redsten, Executive Director, Clean Wisconsin, Madison, WI
* Beth Soholt, Director, Wind on the Wires, St. Paul, MN
* John Thompson, Advocacy Coordinator, Clean Air Task Force, Carbondale, IL

Let’s see… Who’s regarded as a “stakeholder?” “>Bill Grant and Beth Soholt representing Minnesota. No one else. Beth Soholt was Izaak Walton until the WOW grant came through with enough dough to build an “organization” around. They’re operating out of the same address.

Where’s the Sierra Club and its Air Toxics Campaign? Paula Maccabee’s no longer there, but the Campaign is going strong. Doesn’t Sierra Club count?

Where’s Elizabeth Dickenson? She as an individual has done more to raise awareness of coal plants than anyone, in her mayoral campaign, she woke up St. Paul about energy responsibility, and she was in there testifying against Mesaba in 2002 and 2003. And the Izaak Walton League did not testify against it.

Where’s Barbara Freese of Union of Concerned Scientists and author of Coal: A Human History? Doesn’t she know a thing or two about coal?

Only the Waltons are regarded as stakeholders? What the hell…

Who’s funding this anyway?

Corporate and Corporate Foundation Contributions

* Aggregate Industries
* Basin Electric Power Cooperative
* Donaldson Company
* Entegris Company
* Great River Energy
* Izaak Walton League for America
* Manitoba Hydro
* Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy
* Minnesota Corn Growers
* Xcel Energy

Oh. Duh. Say no more…

… sigh…

And look who’s representing the state!

State Officials and State Legislators

* Mike Bull, Assistant Commissioner, Renewable Energy and Advanced Technologies, MinnesotaDepartment of Commerce, St. Paul, MN
* Catherine Boies, Executive Assistant, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
* Gary Hanson (R), Commissioner, South DakotaUtilities Commission, Pierre, SD
* Roger Johnson(D), Commissioner of Agriculture and Member, State Industrial Commission, Bismarck, ND
* Bob Raney (D), Commissioner, MontanaPublic Service Commission, Helena, MT
* Rich Wardner(R), State Senator and Executive Director, DickinsonChamber of Commerce, Dickinson, ND


Shoulda asked Mikey about it last night in Preston, when he was stumping for Rep. Greg Davids, the guy with the telemarketing skills that City Pages wrote about in Burn Baby Burn:

If nothing else, the conversation provides a colorful window into the world of small-town politics. Davids expresses extreme displeasure with the letter to the Republican-Leader, and then threatens to sue the letter writer absent an apology. “That’s not acceptable. That’s lawsuit city. If he makes [an apology], I’ll accept it… But if this continues, I’ll protect myself,” Davids says. What bothered Pechulis most was what came next: Davids declared he would also take other members of SEMEP to court. “Does this SEMEP group have insurance?” Davids says on the tape. “You better get some. This happens again, I’ll sue them. I’ve got good attorneys. Junkyard-dog-killing attorneys that will rip their eyes out and pee in their brains.”

Stay tuned for updates on this coal gasification group.

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