On July 14, 2006, just over a week ago, the South Dakota Public
Utilities Commission issued the Order and Permit for the Big
Stone II coal plant — 600MW of coal.

Here’s the South Dakota PUC Decision – click here!

But it’s baaaaaaaaaaaaack! Coincidentially, it’s just become public that the project engineering conslutant, Black & Veatch, recently issued a report that said cost of the plant was up 60% from that reported in the Permit Application, to $1.6 billion!

Today at the PUC there was a hearing about Big Stone II, and they’ll be moving back the Minnesota transmission part of the project so that this info can be considered, though I don’t know the outcome yet. A proposal from Todd Guerrero, OTP’s attorney, put the schedule back about five weeks, sometimes a bit more, which may help. But where is this report? It’s not on the Otter Tail Power website that I can find, sure isn’t in the “economic impacts” section.

Here’s an article from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (the STrib had one today too):

Costs spiral for Big Stone II

Threat considered unlikely to impede power plant

BEN SHOUSE – bshouse@argusleader.com July 26, 2006, 2:55 am

The estimated cost of a major coal-fired power plant proposed near Milbank has shot up by 60 percent to $1.6 billion, possibly calling the project’s future into question.

The increase is mostly because of the rapidly rising cost of raw materials such as steel and copper, and higher than expected costs for construction labor, said Steve Schultz, spokesman for the seven companies proposing to build Big Stone II.

He said it is possible but not likely that the increase would derail the project.

“We think at this point we’re still cruising along, business as usual,” he said. “Obviously, since the beginning of the project there has been talk of what-ifs, so we don’t have answers for all those what-ifs.”

Big Stone II recently received a siting permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, but still needs a permit for a $200 million transmission line project from the Minnesota PUC.

On Thursday, that commission questioned executives from Otter Tail Power Co., the lead developer, regarding the cost increase. The issue took up much of the day’s meeting, according to Clark Kaml, a rates analyst for the Minnesota PUC.

He said the commission raised the issue because of a letter from environmental groups and Minnesota newspaper reports.

Commissioners asked both Otter Tail and Great River Energy – a partner in Big Stone II based in Elk River, Minn. – to repeat a key portion of their “resource plans.” These plans, required of utilities in Minnesota, include a determination of the most economic mix of energy resources.

As a result of the new numbers, the computer models used in that analysis could recommend a shift away from coal toward wind power or energy conservation, said Brian Morlock, manager of resource planning for Otter Tail. But he added that wind turbines and other resources are subject to the same inflation that is raising the cost of Big Stone II.

“Any time you change the cost, it has the potential to change the resource plan, but until we actually run the models. … I have no idea what the outcome will be,” he said.

South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Sahr agreed that the cost of wind turbines will also increase.

He said the increased cost for Big Stone II is a major concern because it could increase electric rates for consumers, but that it would probably not have influenced the commission’s vote in favor of the plant on July 14.

“I don’t think anyone would find this surprising, and frankly I think this was in the back of everyone’s mind as something that could happen,” he said.

Bill Grant, an opponent of Big Stone II with the Izaak Walton League in St. Paul, said it’s possible that wind power could now be the cheaper option.

“I don’t think it’s accurate to say that, for example, wind energy costs have increased by 50 percent to 100 percent in the past year. So that’s why I think we need to see their numbers and compare them to the costs of various alternatives. That’s something, in our view, that did not happen in any meaningful way before the South Dakota commission,” he said.

At least one minor participant in Big Stone II is having second thoughts because of the cost. Austin Utilities of Austin, Minn., has suggested withdrawing from the project, said general manager Jerry McCarthy.

His utility is part of Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which could vote to opt out of Big Stone II at its August board meeting. But the plant could be built without SMMPA, which accounts for only 7 percent of the project’s output.

The cost increase could benefit the economy of the Milbank area in the form of higher labor costs, Schultz said. But property taxes and state taxes will not increase, because they were capped by the South Dakota Legislature, he said.

Why is Coleman a toady for Mesaba? Time for a new Senator!
Citizens Against the Mesaba Project is unveiling CAMP and holding an informational meeting on Tuesday.


July 25, 2006 at 7 p.m.

Grand Rapids Public Library

Do join us for this informational meeting about Excelsior Energy’s proposed coal gasification power plant.

  • What are the real costs? (and what about those unreal costs!)
  • Is this technology reliable?
  • What are the real economic benefits?
  • What infrastructure exists/is needed at the Scenic Highway site?
  • Why is the power of eminent domain granted to a private company?
  • Why is this project exempted from the typical review process?
  • What are the environmental and health effects?
  • What can a concerned citizen do?

Featured speaker, Ross Hammond, P.E. Ross is an energy consultant, a Board Member of Fresh Energy (formerly ME3), and has over 30 years in the industry. He was NSP’s Director of Environmental Affairs, manager of NSP’s Riverside coal plant, and another in Australia, and he worked in transmission too! And yes, his father and my father built coal plants together!
And don’t forget that Thursday is the PUC meeting where they will address Comments received regarding cost issues and decide whether they want to amend their prior Order in the Mesaba cost docket. It will probably be one of the best PUC meetings this decade!

And Thursday or Friday, who knows, we’re waiting to find out, it’s Xcel’s Motion to Extend Deadlines, because Excelsior is dragging their feet, stalling, won’t turn stuff over and we spend all our time fighting to get access to information — seems Xcel is being perfectly reasonable. GASP!!! (isn’t GASP an anti-coal group?)

A confident alpha who has “no problem with the News publishing his letter” doesn’t write so many defensive words. Having experienced first hand the “different rules for different people” policies of the News in the 2002 and 2004 elections (plus personally having been the subject of defamation so blatant the News’ attorney said it made him cringe), yes, Ray Cox doth protest too much. Publicity stunts in the dump and threatening letters from the Speaker that are contrary to black letter law are something he should be held accountable for, and yet the News bought into it. And we all remember who did the remodeling job of the paper’s office during campaign season. Editors and reporters in Ray Cox’s district just might have some interesting stories to share. And then there’s Doug Jones’ Rovian tendencies…

We’ll see how Seesz will sieze the reins this season! Unfortunately, it’s a “been there, done that” race… yawn…
In the Northfield News today:

Debunking allegations

To the editor:

A letter writer in last Saturday’s Northfield News (“Questioning the News, Saturday/Sunday, July 15-16, 5A) took the News to task over various operational issues. In doing so the writer implied that I have some sort of nebulous, controlling association with the News. None of those accusations have so much as a smattering of truth to them. While the writer has a lengthy litany of complaints, I have no problem with the News publishing his letter, nor should I or anyone else who believes in true freedom of the press.

The writer first complains that the News endorsed me in the 2004 election. He attempts to find fault with that endorsement, calling into question the ethics of the News. He doesn’t mention it, but they also endorsed me in 2002, and every time I stood for election to the Northfield school board for the previous 15 years. I thank the News for the dedicated work they put forward in evaluating candidates for office but that is the extent of my comment to them. In fact, I have always been amazed at the amount of time and resources the News allocated to the candidate review and endorsement process. I suspect their decision not to endorse candidates any longer will free up a substantial amount of time for their staff to provide additional general political coverage in all elections.

The News, like any good newspaper, separates editorial and news decisions from advertising decisions. For the writer to imply otherwise is simply uncalled for. While the writer may not be able to separate business and political functions, I know most people can, and do so on a regular basis. It may also interest the writer to know that the StarTribune endorsed me in 2004, as well as the Sierra Club and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. And yes, I subscribe to the StarTribune and have been a member of the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce for decades. But to think those financial and support transactions have anything to do with a political endorsement is wrong. And it is just as wrong and unfair to imply that the News endorsed me because of an advertising account.

The writer also asserts that I am behind some covert plan to control news coverage. Again, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What the News elects to cover on the pages of their paper is their business and theirs alone. If the News determines an action or incident is worthy of press coverage, then they are free to report on it. The writer is correct that this country scrupulously defends it right to freedom of the press, as I do. The News, like any quality newspaper, also protects its business assets from slander and libel by rejecting letters and articles that contain such material. If the writer or his associates submit libelous letters to the News, I trust the News will make careful editorial decisions regarding publishing such letters. And if there was incorrect school district information contained in an earlier letter perhaps the writer would send in a correction rather than making unfair allegations against others.

The writer goes on to completely miss the distinction between serving as an elected State Representative and being a political candidate. As the State Representative from Northfield, the News has asked me from time to time to submit a legislative report during the legislative session. Earlier this year Louie Seesz, the Editor of the Northfield News, clearly stated the guest opinion policy in a column. He said anyone can contact him with an idea for a column but he retains the decision to publish. When I report on action in the Minnesota House of Representatives it is to inform my constituents. It has nothing to do with running for office. This is just another example of the writer not understanding the separation of duties and actions between serving as an elected state representative and running for a political office. There is a time, after the close of the filing period, when I do both jobs and I must carefully keep them separated. But to find fault with the News because they won’t politicize their guest columns is not a valid complaint.

Finally, the letter writer proposes that the News initiate some type of loosely organized “sounding board” to review their news content during the election period. I believe that is the job of the editor and his staff. I’m sure they would be open to discussing such a plan. But I also suspect that the News is quite comfortable using the clearly identified policies and procedures they already have in place to run their newspaper.

Ray Cox

What’s all the fuss about? Here’s a link to Paul Fried’s letter:

Questioning the NewsÂ


Here comes 1,620 miles of bulk power transmission for export — the start of it is through Red Wing, going from “Brookings, SD” (though it starts way further out west) and going to LaCrosse (though it goes way further into WI than that, DUH!). Here’s a map:

(huh, used up my space??? how can that be?) will post later

Here’s a blog link with a map of the eastern part of this big line.
Here’s another blog link with ATC plan for big picture.
This is the start of too many miles of transmission projects through Minnesota, 1,620 miles and thousands of landowners affected. They don’t even list the PI paper for notice…

Notice Plan Comments are due today. Send to:

Burl Haar
Exec. Dir.
121 – 7th Place E.
St. Paul, MN 55101

Fax: 651-297-7073

Notice Plan is available here:

Attached is my Comment on the western part of this line, and I’ll just be cut and pasting and making slight alterations for this. Dig the map of what they’re proposing for Prairie Island, and they leave the new subdivision in Red Wing off of the southern edge of the map. Funny how that works…

Here are CapX2020 links, and I’ve attached a pdf of the CapX2020 Vision Thang, but careful, you might lose your breakfast.


Project Group I

Project Group I includes approximately 600 miles of 345-kilovolt lines, connecting Minnesota with North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin and a smaller 230-kilovolt line in the Bemidji area. These projects are estimated to cost approximately $1.3 billion.

Year Description

2011 CapX Bemidji-North Central MN / 230 kV

2011 CapX Southeast Twin Cities-Rochester-La Crosse / 345kV

2012 CapX Brookings, S.D.-Southeast Twin Cities / 345 kV

2012 CapX Fargo-St. Cloud/Monticello Area / 345kV

Project Group II â?? Around the Twin Cities

Project Group II schedule to be announced

Project Group III â?? Remote Generation Outlet

Project Group III schedule to be announced

Excelsior yahoos.jpg
Who pays for this? The deeper I look, the worse it gets. The infrastructure tally is pushing half a billion bucks — that’s a lot in my book. The Commissioners were getting pretty wound up about costs, and rightly so. They know what’s coming, no foreshadowing required. And on July 7, the day after the last Mesaba meeting, they opened up a Comment period! YES!

PUC Notice of 7/7/06 in part:

At its July 6, 2006 agenda meeting, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission considered the acceptance of Excelsior Energy Inc.’s Combined Application for a Site Permit, Transmission Line Route Permit, and Natural Gas Pipeline Permit for its Mesaba Energy Project in Docket No. E-6472/GS-06-668 (link to the Docket). In the course of discussions on the 06-668 Docket, issues were raised that may be more directly addressed in Docket No. E-6472/M-05-1993 which the Commission has already referred for contested case hearing. The Commission directed its staff to bring these issues back before the Commission at a future agenda meeting in the 05-1993 Docket.

Written comments will be accepted on whether the Commission should supplement its April 26, 2006 Notice and Order for Hearing and Order Granting Intervention Petition in the 05-1993 Docket to request that parties specifically address:

  • the costs of transmission upgrades and related facilities beyond the substation associated with the Mesaba Energy Project; and
  • the costs of other infrastructure investments associated with the Mesaba Energy Project.

Pretty cool, eh? Here’s the bunch that flew over the ether yesterday with clickable links:

MCGP Comment on Cost for Commission.pdf
Local Gov’t Infrastructure Cost Estimate Exhibit A – SEH Public Infrastructure.pdf
TLTG Tables – incremental cost of fixes Exhibit B – TLTG Table 1-H SW MN 345kV.pdf

Excelsior_Comments on Commn Notice Regarding Addl Issues-1.pdf

MP Comments 05-1993-1.pdf

Xcel Energy Comments 05-1993-2.pdf

Remember when a couple weeks ago, I’d sent out Info Requests to Xcel asking what curtailment costs would be for the 675MW of wind that under MISO G519 has to be cut (plus Big Stone II has to be “kept in ND” and MP generation and capacity of A-W is cut too) because curtailment payments would be easy for them to measure… hee hee hee hee. Here’s the G519 report — it’s hilarious! 675MW of wind cut for 600MW of Mesaba! Anyway, Xcel got right with it and even did me one better in what they think should be considered:

  • Carbon sequestration: Should the record attempt to identify the cost and infrastructure necessary for carbon sequestration?
  • Curtailment: Are there potential curtailment costs with generation so far from NSP load and should these costs be considered along with the infrastructure costs?
  • Natural gas capacity andinfrastructure: What are the costs of developing natural gas fuel for the plant as a back-up or alternative fuel, including gas capacity reservation charges as well as infrastructure costs.
  • Cost allocatin and assignment: In light of the statutes, who should have the responsibility for the actual infrastructure improvements?
  • Hydrogen economy: Are there infrastructure costs associated with using this IGCC to help devleop a Minnesota hydrogen economy?
  • Other infrastructure: Are other infrastructure costs for rail, water, management of wastes, fly ash fully considered?

Hey Xcel – you forgot “road!” But isn’t that just the greatest list of costs to be considered that you ever did see!

The Commission will address these issues on Thursday, July 27, the meeting starts at 9:30 but we’re second to last on the agenda. Keep an eye on the Calendar, click here, because Staff Briefing papers will appear before the meeting.

Now let’s see if this upload works now!