Here’s the Mesaba Daily News report of the Scoping hearing:

Environment, jobs top concerns at Excelsior scoping meeting

And here’s the MPR lead=in for today’s meeting:

Coal gasification gets environmental review

Mesaba hearing 1.jpg

Damn, caught in the act! But I couldn’t be bought, the dining room set offered just isn’t enough — I keep telling Micheletti he can’t afford me but he doesn’t get it — he’s been hit by a hockey puck too many times… or was that his brother???

Anyway, today’s meeting was… large… standing room only. Most of the Excelsior crew was there. Reps. Irv Anderson and Loren Solberg and Sen. David Tomassoni (the bill’s primary Senate promoter) were there, Mayor of Taconite and part of the City Council, an Itasca County Commissioner and more… the local elected officials seemed to have no idea of the project details, yet they were all doing their rah-rah promo speeches. How much is Taconite getting in Personal Property Taxes, or is this project exempt? Who is paying for the infrastructure — we know the county is taking on bonding for some… What about public safety necessities, like first responders, the volunteer fire department — it reminds me of Lake City’s volunteer fire department as the first responder to nuclear emergencies!!!! One council member acknowledged this problem, as a fire fighter he would be hard pressed to ignore it, and he was wondering where the needed training would come from. GOOD! Somebody’s thinking here! Chuck Michael, of Short Elliot Hendrickson, and who also runs the “Community Readiness Committee” has at least done his homework, but that’s probably because he actually works on the projects. As opposed to yahoos like Ron Dicklich, a lobbyist for GRE and Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, who gave the most pathetic “we’re going to freeze in the dark in an incubator without a job” comment, after all. He brought up that 6,300MW need and of course no mention of the 16,712MW in the MISO queue, I mean, it’s all from the same report, CapX2020, and you don’t even have to read narrative or do math to figure this one out — it’s pictures — LOOK AT PAGE 7. He’s about to inherit my monikor for Dick Day!!! OH, excuse me, I forgot, what do facts have to do with this… we don’t have the “facts” about this project anyway. Yes, I get that development of a project is always a moving target, but this is absurd.

Before the meeting, there was an informational session where the reps were there to jaw with the folks, which we all did, and we got info that’s not been public before — for example, Highway 7 is going to be rerouted. This was news to the guy who’s land it’s going through, and he learned at the meeting. When asked why he hadn’t been informed, he was told that they’d given plans to neighbors to pass around. Can you spell “communications issues?” Here’s the map, Hwy. 7 is the green line that is on the bottom half, a horizontal near the middle of the plan and then turns down to the south. He was in shock, and as we were talking, Tomassoni walks by, I nail him, “Here’s somebody you need to talk to,” and he was caught for a couple minutes at least. But he said, “I’m the guy you need to talk to, but I’m not the guy to tlak to, I don’t really know what they’re proposing.” Can this be true? Oh, I forgot, what do facts have to do with this…

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Here’s Excelsior’s Bob Evans backlit by some fun “facts” about the project that we’ve not been privy to before — can you believe they didn’t have this on handout for the folks? I raise that they should hand this out to the folks there, and there’s no initiative whatsoever. Thankfully, Bill Storm of the EQB/PUC/Commerce (whatever the hell it is nowdays), said he’d post it on their site and Rick Hargis of the DOE said he’d email it to me, but my concern isn’t for ME, it’s that the public needs this information. I can get it one way or another, but if this is a public meeting, the folks need to be able to take this stuff home and digest it. Again, risking sounding like a broken record, how in the hell can people comment on EIS review of a project if they don’t know what the project is?

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Excerpts from my Initial Comment:

Comment: Application (grant, project, whatever documentation provided information for the NOI) must be provided to the public at beginning of Comment Period. Meaningful scoping comments are difficult, if not impossible, and are thwarted where there is no project information available at the time of Federal Register publication. Notice was published on October 5, 2005, and to this date, this vague account is the most detailed information published about this project. I contacted the NEPA Document Manager, Mr. Hargis, and received a message that there was no underlying document. I contacted Michael Wadley of Excelsior and was told that there was a grant application that had been submitted, and he would check to see if that could be redacted and released. This dearth of information is not reasonable. It is impossible to guess at scoping issues or bounds, and it is not reasonable to have the public informational meeting just before the scoping meeting the first opportunity for the public to get any idea the details of the project if anything is produced. I’m not confident. But I am assuming that the DOE is not providing this private company with a massive grant and a billion dollars of loan guarantees for a project drawn on the back of a bar napkin. On the other hand, if it is, please consider this the application of Public Energy, Inc., for a similar project and send the check to the address above!

Comment: DOE must conduct wider alternatives analysis. I am disturbed by the DOE�s notion, without citation, that the DOE�s environmental responsibility is lessened because this is not a federal project, and that it is a private project. THIS DEMONSTRATION PROJECT WOULD NOT GO FORWARD BUT FOR DOE FUNDING. Because DOE funding is essential, the DOE�s responsibility is equal to or heightened from a project where there is a federal ownership interest. The DOE is not relieved of its environmental responsibilities under NEPA by ownership or lack thereof.

Comment: This project threatens environmental mitigation steps taken by the MEQB. In an effort to prevent bulk power transfers, increased use of coal generation, and the resultant increased mercury deposition and greenhouse gasses, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requested, and the Environmental Quality Board ordered, limits to the capacity of the Arrowhead transmission line. The capacity limit of the line is �enforced� by a phase shifting transformer, specified for this line to provide stability, and in this case, it was limited to 800 MVA � the line will receive only the electricity the transformer provides. However, Excelsior has discovered that addition of the Mesaba project to the grid creates grid instability:

� The studies showed that development of 345kV lines into and out of Arrowhead Substations causes the 230kV phase shifter installed to control the flows onto the Arrowhead-Weston 345kV line to become ineffective as the phase shifter is effectively by-passed.
o This issue has been brought to the attention of the project developers � Minnesota Power and American Transmission Company � and is being evaluated.

From Excelsior Energy Powerpoint presentation to MAPP NM-SPG. Given the grid in the area, the Arrowhead-Weston line is the logical choice, and it�s difficult to imagine an alternate route. The EIS must address the impact of increased mercury deposition and production of greenhouse gasses due to the bypass of the MPCA and EQB limitation.

Comment: This project threatens public safety by putting the grid at risk. In light of the above, the project puts public safety at risk by by-passing a transformer that has a grid stability function. The EIS must address public safety and risk to the grid of Mesaba interconnection.

Comment: If this project is to connect into the Blackberry substation, significant upgrades will be required. According to a Minnesota Power fax of 4/6/99, and subsequent analysis by Steve Leovy, WI-PSC staff engineer, the Blackberry to Arrowhead line and others are already in need of upgrade before this project is even considered. The EIS must examine safety and stability of this interconnection.

I’ll have a lot more to say about specifics, but today I wanted to stress some procedural issues, make sure they get that information must be provided and that the alternatives analysis must be more than “do we finance it or do we not finance it.” Good enough never is.

Here’s the “other Mike,” Excelsior’s Michael Wadley, talking with “The Face of Mesaba” Linda Castagneri and Ron Gustafson.

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Here’s Tom getting in the last word. More tomorrow…

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Comments on the Completeness of the Application for the Big Stone II transmission project were due Friday — I’m a day late and more than a few dollars short — but for a project that opens the door for coal, a Comment is an imperative! Here’s my Comment. Download file

An important aspect of this project is the deal reported Friday:

Deal ‘opens the door’ to wind power

Here’s the route they propose for the project, it’s the barely visible dotted red line on the left side below middle, going south from Big Stone and sort of paralleling south of the blue line east to Granite Falls:

Big Stone map.jpg

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s a 345kV going nowhere! “It’s all connected,” but this one isn’t. Why? Because they want to sneak this through in pieces — but they admit what we already know:

When operated at 345kV, the Granite Falls line will act as the first phase of a 345kV transmission plan connecting western/southwestern Minnesota to the Twin Cities.

Here’s the map of the real project, from CapX2020’s Sept. 6 announcement of “Phase I” (which has me wondering about other Phases) but the North Dakota origin at the new Belfield 500MW coal plant isn’t shown:

SW MN It's not for Wind map.jpg

To see what’s going on in the Big Stone II transmission docket click here for PUC site’s “e-Dockets” page, and in the “year” box, type in “05” and in the “number” box, type in “619” and then hit enter and you get the list. You may first have to click on the Java cup and end up with the Java advertising, but close that screen and you’ll get there.

What has to be in an Application? Lots, under the rules at Minn.R. 7849.0010 – 7849.0400, and the procedural rules are in Ch. 7829.

As an aside, if you ever wonder what would happen to the electric power supply if zombies take over, I found this while roaming, as Carter Bishop would say, that’s one answer! Methinks we’re already there…

What happens next in Big Stone? The application is either accepted or they’re told to supplement the application and then it’s accepted, and after it’s accepted, it’s time to Intervene and it moves forward to a Contested Case hearing. That’s when the fun starts because we can submit Information Requests and get all sorts of good stuff!

Here’s the corridor map that has highways and cities and such so you can get your bearings — the corridor in Minnesota is the horizontal dotted part. For a better view, get the Application at the Big Stone II site.

Big Stone corridor.jpg

Last night was the Energy Discussion that Mike Bull put together, one of many he’s doing around the state. Here’s his name in lights this week: Energy plan tilts to windmills. Mike’s the Assistant Commissioner for Renewable Energy and Advanced Technologies, and I’d guess he’s probably hitting those areas that need the help that only the Gov’s top energy boy can lend! Coming up soon, Morris, Preston, and somewhere on the Range in December! Without a doubt, it’s campaign season in Minnesota…

Ray&Mikey Mikey.jpg

As Ray notes in his blog, many of those present were lobbyists — how many can you name in this photo???

Ray&Mikey Ray.jpg

After Mike’s presentation, it was opened to questions, and there was a lot of talk about biodiesel, and Jesse Streitz did have great comments about reducing energy and the need to make energy options available to all, making it an individual action that people can really take — I sure couldn’t afford solar or a new hybrid car, much less a home like Ray built for Jesse!

The Face of Mesaba

The drum roll came as Linda Castagneri spoke. She and her husband Ron Gustafson are the “Face of Mesaba.” Linda is a native of the range who grew up with the Michelettis. Ron and Linda are very real people who are faced with this insane concept of trains and trucks roaring through their yard, transmission lines overhead, underground pipe lines for natural gas and water, constant industrial sounds and bright lights… who could have imagined that one day this project would come to their beautiful haven nestled between two lakes in the old growth pine bog?

Ray&Mikey Ron&Linda.jpg

Linda and Ron are two of the landowners affected by the Mesaba coal gasification plant. Here is the site plan Download file

Linda asked Rep. Cox why he supported the bill exempting Excelsior from a Certificate of Need, and giving them, a private company, the power of Eminent Domain. Ray admitted to supporting the Bill, but stated that it has turned out to be a “bait and switch” as legislators were led to believe the project was to be built in Hoyt Lakes. He did not say that he’d do anything to change it!

Mike Bull stated several times that the Excelsior Energy Plant was not a done deal, and said the state is “kicking the tires” and not quite sure to buy into the project or not. He said it has become very expensive and that no one knows at this point what it will actually cost. Ron, who had the DOE Notice of Intent, reminded him that the Federal Register lists the cost at 1.9 billion, plus the state bond costs, and he let us know that Excelsior Energy had come to the County wanting even more money, more than $50 million for infrastructure. Mike also stated that although the statute exempts Excelsior from a Certificate of Need, it does not prevent the state from requiring Excelsior to prove the need for the plant, and they will have to do this at the PUC when the Power Purchase Agreement goes before the Commission. This statement was contrary to what Bill Storm, the EQB project manager, has previously told Ron and Linda. It’s also contrary to my take on the law and agency process. And claims that “it’s not a done deal” do not alter the fact that everyone concerned about Mesaba will have to participate in every aspect of the permitting process — I’ve already been on this project since December, 2001. It keeps moving forward, and it is moving forward, it has not stopped.

Mike Bull said that neither he nor the state considers coal gasification as a renewable energy source, although there were legislative attempts to classify it as renewable. He thinks the coal gasification process MAY be a cleaner alternative to present coal burning plants and an alternative to nuclear plants, and the state needs to look at all alternatives. Ron pointed out that the Federal Register identifies Coal Gasification as a “Demonstration Project of high economic risk”.

Linda and Ron also provided Cox and Bull with handouts of the law from the 2003 Special Session, Chapter 11, HF 9, photos of their property and their neighbors, and the Federal Register Notice of Intent from the Department of Energy. Mesaba is going forward. It’s time those who promote it recognize the real damage it will do, and recognize the impacts it has on the very real people who live in its footprint and beyond.

This is the face of Mesaba… Linda’s statement was riviting.

It’s time to hold the supporters of Mesaba accountable. You could build tens of thousands of off-grid energy efficient homes before it would offset the negative impact of this one Mesaba plant.

Excelsior yahoos.jpg

So we have another deal, for transmission AND a coal plant — backing off against the new Big Stone II coal plant in exchange for “transmission for wind.” Right… I’m still working on getting a copy of the agreement.


Funny, there’s no mention of the Belfield plant that the MTEP06 plan talks about connecting on this line… that report says in point 2 (emphasis added):

6.1 Regional projects or Study Areas of Focus:

? CAPX (Incorporates prior Northwest Area Exploratory Project) ? Three options are to
be pursued:

1. Coal fields of North Dakota to Fargo to Benton County outside of the Twin Cities
2. Belfield, North Dakota (site of a new 500 MW coal plant) to Ellendale, South
Dakota to Big Stone area to Granite Falls to Blue Lake, Minnesota
3. Cross link from Ellendale to Fargo

Here’s another link to the Belfield plant, minutes from the Lignite Research Council.

Oh great, as if mercury and emissions sufficient to knock your SOx and NOx off isn’t enough, the Belfield coal has uranium in it! Check this: Nuclear Decommissioning – Belfield Ashing Facility Site

FINALLY – Here’s the article in the Sioux Falls’ Argus Leader — I used to read it regularly at the 399 mile marker on Saturday mornings…

Deal ‘opens the door’ to wind power


Article Published: 10/21/05

A coal-fired power plant in the works near Milbank could spawn new wind farms in South Dakota, a possible source of renewable energy and of millions of dollars in fees for landowners and tax revenue for the state.

The power companies building the Big Stone II plant announced Thursday that they will build extra electricity transmission capacity into their project, making room on the grid for wind farms in South Dakota or Minnesota.

The plant itself will generate 600 megawatts – enough to power 300,000 homes or more – and a new transmission line will add 800 to 1,000 megawatts of spare capacity on top of that, said Mark Rolfes of Otter Tail Power Co.

“Essentially, this opens the door,” said Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson in Pierre.

“This is going to help wind farm development in many places in South Dakota because the transmission grid is so interconnected.”

The companies also will add air pollution controls to the existing Big Stone plant as well as the new plant, resulting in no increases in most types of air pollution, Rolfes said.

Deanna White of the Sierra Club’s Sioux Falls office said she appreciates the effort. But she is not convinced the wind energy benefits will materialize and questions the wisdom of burning coal in the first place.

“Ultimately, we don’t believe that investing in coal-fired power plants is the way to go,” she said. “We believe that the best choice would be to invest in renewable energy and conservation measures.”

The Izaak Walton League’s Midwest office in St. Paul and several other advocacy groups also oppose the new plant.

In June, seven power companies announced plans to build the $1 billion plant between 2007 and 2011, to serve customers in northeast South Dakota, and in North Dakota and Minnesota.

It would be the largest single investment ever made in South Dakota.

Rolfes said Thursday’s announcement was partly in response to environmental groups concerned about pollution from a new coal plant, and the desire of citizens to see the region’s tremendous potential for wind power realized.

“The transmission’s biggest benefit is hopefully the public acceptance that we’re trying to do the right thing,” he said.

Johnson said the move made Public Utilities Commission approval more likely. That process probably will wrap up sometime next year.

“The two big announcements they made today – excess transmission capacity and a lot more pollution control – is going to make it a lot easier for this commission to see this project as good for South Dakota,” he said.

But White of the Sierra Club said it is not clear that the extra capacity would all go for wind.

“They’re very dedicated to the idea of getting this plant built and getting it permitted. I don’t believe that they’re lying, I just think that they’re putting the best spin on things,” she said.

Federal rules dictate that excess transmission capacity goes to the first power source able to use it, so there is no way to ensure it will go to wind power, said Steve Schultz of Missouri River Energy Services. But he said wind is the most likely user because power companies do not have any other sources planned.

The new plant will be right next to an existing 425-megawatt plant, making it possible to remove air pollution from both the old and the new plants.

For example, a scrubber technology called “wet flue gas desulfurization” will remove about 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions, which contribute to acid rain. That means emissions of both plants will be 15 percent of what Big Stone I emits today, Rolfes said.

A technology called selective catalytic reduction will remove nitrogen oxides, which cause smog and acid rain.

Rolfes said because technology is changing, it is not clear what kind of controls the new plant will have for mercury, a pollutant that collects in fish and can cause brain defects in fetuses and children. He said he expects mercury emissions of both plants to be less than those of Big Stone I.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch in Washington, said most of those technologies are state of the art, but he was disappointed by the lack of a clear plan for mercury.

“It’s actually a little alarming to hear that they’re hedging their bets on what they’re going to do about mercury,” he said. “There is technology being sold now commercially that can take 80 or 90 percent of mercury out of systems.”

Reach Ben Shouse at 331-2318.

Transmission for Dummies

October 19th, 2005


What with all the new transmission projects proposed for Minnesota, I’ve had a couple requests for Transmission for Dummies, and I don’t know how to get it to show up separately here, so here they are:

Transmission for Dummies #1

Transmission for Dummies #2

Transmission for Dummies #3

Transmission for Dummies #4

Generation for Volt Dolts