Pipeline? You wish.

So yesterday Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Energy Project got into another news cycle with their environmental hearing regarding the pipeline for their proposed coal gas plant near Taconite. This was a hearing about just the pipeline, which is step 18 of a 50-step process that will never get past the first step of getting the money and customers needed to actually build the plant.

Here are some factors to consider:

* Electricity is the lifeblood of the economy, thus its cost is very important to how large employers on the Iron Range function. The power that would be sold by Excelsior IF it builds Mesaba would be vastly more expensive than current market rates. They propose that the government mandate that all power customers absorb that cost so that they can become very wealthy.

* The reason the cost is so high is because Excelsior would be buying coal at market rates from a place more than a thousand miles away. When they get the coal, they propose gasifying it in an “innovative” way. The technology allows them to bury the carbon deep beneath the earth’s surface. The problem is that you can’t do that on the Iron Range because of the geology. You have to pipe it (here we are with a pipeline again) to another place thousands of miles away to bury it, at a great cost. This cost isn’t even calculated in their current estimates because Excelsior Energy is run by weasels. Without carbon sequestration, Mesaba is just a coal plant that isn’t even as clean as some of the plants run much more cost-effectively by Minnesota Power, a company that actually exists.

* In northern Minnesota we are subject something called the federal haze standard. That means that permits are handed out based on how various emissions will affect the nearby Voyageurs and Boundary Waters national parks. We have a whole lot of taconite mines that emit various nasties and we want to build more mining plants and a steel plant. Those plants are in the process of actually getting their permits. When they do, and they will, we will be at the maximum for the federal haze standard. Which means that Excelsior can only get their permits if they get federal laws changed under a Democratic Congress with a possible Democratic president. That’s a long shot at best.

In other words, Excelsior is news only because of federal and state handouts. It can only be built with regulatory shortcuts. If built, it will likely require a bailout within its first five years (which is what happened to a similar plant in Indiana). But perhaps more importantly — considering the locations of the coal, the markets for the power, the locations for the carbon sequestration and the proximity of two major national parks — the Iron Range is the WORST POSSIBLE LOCATION for a plant of this kind in North America. Except, of course, for the available state and federal dollars and willing minions like U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and State Sen. David Tomassoni who have carried all the legislation Excelsior has ever asked them to carry.

So did I see the story about the pipeline hearing? Sure, but that’s not the real story.

Contested Case Hearing for Mesaba Energy Project

On Tuesday, almost two dozen people testified on behalf of the Mesaba Energy Project at a contested case hearing in Taconite. An administrative law judge listened to the testimony, and the public was allowed to ask the panel questions. The judge will take all of the testimony, and make a recommendation to the Department of Commerce on the site permit, the transmission line permit, and the pipeline permit. Then the Department of Commerce will present their findings to the
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. That agency has the final say on the project, the permits, and the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement. Their decision is expected in the spring.

Union representatives and local leaders support the coal gasification plant, which is planned for Taconite. There is an opposition movement to the project, called Citizens Against the Mesaba Project. Attorneys for that group and other members were in attendance, and testified as well.

Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Hoyt Lakes, which is the alternative site for the project.

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