Big Stone brouhaha in ND

September 3rd, 2006


The other day there was a “heads up” in the inbasket that the editorial page of the Fargo Forum had lit up about Big Stone II, and then another! In the Bismarck Tribune too! Seems the “Joint Intervenors” from Big Stone, Goodpaster of MCEA (Outrage Expressed...), Grant of Waltons, Noble of ME3, and also Zellar of Clean Water Action Alliance, had joined in a Letter to the Editor sent to both papers. That’s weird, because BSII is in SOUTH Dakota, so why? But maybe it’s a slow day in ND? (There was also a transmission editorial in Bismarck, which I’ll get to later) If you do a search of the Fargo paper, what you get is a screen to buy the article! Anyway, here’s the first letter, from the “Joint Intervenors,” and then the “Big Stone Partners” response follows, from the Fargo Forum:

Big Stone II wrong project, wrong time, old technology

08/25/2006 – By Beth Goodpaster, Bill Grant, Michael Noble and Marie Zellar

The commentary from seven utility company leaders lauding the proposed Big Stone II project smacks of desperation on the part of highly paid executives who fear their plan to continue using old-fashioned technology might be in danger. (Forum, Aug. 6)

And it is.

Letâ??s review for a minute. The testimony we brought forth during the South Dakota hearings established that global warming will continue to cause significant harm to the world and the region. Carbon dioxide is the main global warming pollutant, and Big Stone II will emit enormous amounts of it.

How much? Try 4.5 million tons every year, or substantially more carbon dioxide than is produced by all the cars in South Dakota.

But we didnâ??t just say, â??Donâ??t build Big Stone II,â? and then sit down. We showed that a portfolio of responsible alternatives emphasizing energy-efficiency and wind energy is cleaner and more costefficient. The testimony showed wind energy investment would create seven times as many jobs and add five times more money to South Dakotaâ??s economy. With developed wind resources, southwestern Minnesota farmers are poised to be big players in this alternative.

Our plan produces little or no global warming pollutants and none of the mercury and other emissions the Big Stone II gang is struggling to reduce from its smokestacks.

As for their talk of a â??looming energy crisis,â? there isnâ??t one. The last time we heard talk like that, it was by Enron folks mocking California for its rolling blackouts. Only later did we learn Enron caused the â??crisisâ? by manipulating the energy markets. There is plenty of electrical energy for these utilitiesâ?? customers and we have suggested a plan that would provide plenty more.

These utility executives want you to believe that at no time in the next 30 years will Congress slap costly carbon controls on Big Stone II. However, these are the same people who two years ago couldnâ??t even foresee the cost of their own proposed power plant jumping 50 percent to its current $1.8 billion. If they are wrong again and Congress does what seems very likely, all of us, the utility customers, will be paying for it through higher electric rates.

We all have a right to expect our utilities to invest in modern and innovative energy technologies that are efficient, clean and reliable. The Big Stone II executives have offered an antiquated solution that is irresponsible and far too costly.

We can do better and look to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to provide the leadership.

Goodpaster is attorney for Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Grant is associate executive director of the Midwest office of the Izaak Walton League.
Noble is executive director of Fresh Energy.
Zellar is Midwest regional director for Clean Water Action.
All are of Minnesota.


Here’s the response from Montana-Dakota Utilities, I’d guess on behalf of all the Big Stone partners. It showed up on the SEED list thanks to Elizabeth Dickenson — I sure wouldn’t expect a BSII editorial in North Dakota!

Critic of Big Stone II project did not tell the whole story

By Bruce Imsdahl,
Published Friday, September 01, 2006 â?? Fargo Forum

In response to Beth Goodpasterâ??s commentary, which was published in the Forumâ??s August 25, edition â?? â??Big Stone II wrong project, wrong time, old technologyâ?:

Goodpaster left Forum readers with the impression that the Big Stone II participants have been irresponsible in planning to construct a 600-megawatt, coal-fueled power plant in northeastern South Dakota. Her contentions need clarification.

For the past several years, seven regional energy suppliers have been analyzing the feasibility of building a large, baseload generating facility. We found the site of the current 440-megawatt Big Stone I plant to be the most feasible from the standpoint of transmission access, rail service, water availability and other considerations. Earlier this summer, following a week of public hearings, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved the plant siting permit. The water appropriation and waste disposal permits have also been approved by other South Dakota state agencies.

Big Stone II will be a baseload facility, which means, aside from repairs and scheduled maintenance, it will operate around the clock to supply our customersâ?? electricity needs. Electricity suppliers have four baseload options: natural gas, nuclear, coal or hydro. For cost and permitting reasons, coal is our best generation option.

In contrast, Goodpaster asserts that wind energy would be a better baseload alternative. This is simply not true. (By the way, as I am writing this letter, the flag outside my window is not waving.) Wind energy is unreliable and, therefore, cannot be considered a baseload generation option. In fact, in order to use wind energy, we would have to construct a back-up generation facility or facilities â?? most likely fueled by natural gas. The added cost of both generation sources â?? wind and natural gas â?? would be passed on to our customers.

Wind energy advocates rarely acknowledge the need for investing in back-up generation â?? itâ??s a hidden, yet very real, cost of using wind.

The estimated cost of Big Stone II has increased from our original figure of $1 billion for the plant alone to about $1.6 billion for the plant and electric transmission. Montana-Dakotaâ??s portion of this is less than 20 percent. The increase is due to a worldwide increase in the cost of concrete, steel, labor and other plant input â?? driven mainly by the robust economies of India and China. However, since we received the original cost estimates, we have increased the electrical output of the plant as well as its efficiency and emissions capture. With these design modifications, we expect the cost increase per installed kilowatt to be about 23 percent, not 50 percent as Goodpaster states.

Goodpaster further contends that it is likely Congress will pass a carbon tax, which would increase the cost of coal-fueled electricity generation. I canâ??t predict Congressâ?? actions, but it should be noted that, during the Clinton administration, Congress defeated such a bill. The Minnesota legislature has defeated similar bills in the past 10 years. Incidentally, concerning unpredictable energy costs, it should also be noted that the wind energy industry is dependent on federal tax credits to keep its costs feasible. Two years ago, when Congress was slow to renew the tax credits, new wind energy development stopped. Whatâ??s to say Congress wonâ??t discontinue the tax credits altogether? Again, I canâ??t predict Congressâ?? actions, but itâ??s safe to say that future cost increases are inherent with any large project â?? including wind energy.

Finally, Goodpasterâ??s contention that Big Stone II will be a dirty coal plant â?¦ Big Stone II will use the best coal combustion technology now available for a plant of its size. It will meet or exceed all state and federal emission standards. In fact, by constructing the plant next to Big Stone I, we will actually reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, nitrogen compound emissions and mercury emissions below the current levels of Big Stone I.

Furthermore, the gypsum and fly ash produced at the plant are planned to be marketed to the wallboard and concrete industries thus reducing landfill needs and CO2 emissions.

The Big Stone II participants will use the best available technology to get electricity from a ton of coal. Weâ??ll do it as cleanly and as cost-effectively as possible and provide our customers with the reliable and affordable energy they want and need.

Imsdahl, Bismarck, N.D., is president and CEO of Montana-Dakotas Utilities Co.
Of course, I’ve got a few things to say about this, and we’ll see if they print my comment. It suprises me the focus on Big Stone and yet there’s nothing on Excelsior (except baseball scores) and Mesaba (a plane crash). Though Big Stone II does involve a North Dakota utility, Mesaba is the project with the impact on the future of North Dakota coal industry, because if Xcel has to buy Mesaba power, they won’t be ordering a new coal plant in North Dakota anytime soon — that’s why Great Northern Power Development, headquartered in Bismarck, is an Intervenor in the Excelsior PPA docket (they’ve also requested transmission studies, and what a thrill, I’ve found BPA’s transmission studies page with a wealth of info). Anyway, back to Direct Testimony for the PPA Docket… let’s hear it for “long weekends.”

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