Business North‘s Beth Bily is reporting that Excelsior Energy, an eight-year-old start up company, received some rather hushed assistance in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session from gubernatorial candidate Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook). It now appears the company is exploring the option of building a 100 mW natural gas peaking plant on the Iron Range instead of its original proposal of a much larger coal gasification (excuse me, Carbon Capture and Sequestration is the preferred term, or CCS) plant.
This whole thing is called the Mesaba Energy Project. It’s backed by a handful of deep insider energy industry lawyers and lobbyists, some with Iron Range roots. This blog and my columns have maintained a hugely skeptical position on this project, as it has the appearance of a sweetheart deal for a few energy insiders that exploits the economic desperation of the Iron Range and uses taxpayer dollars as most of its start up capital. You can catch up on my past writings here.
Anyway, it now looks like after Excelsior was shot down at the state Public Utilities Commission a couple months ago and found no customer since that they are taking another stab. No surprise that Bakk would be supportive, since he and everyone else at Iron Range Resources in 2001 and 2003 has had egg on their face over the structure of those $9.5 million in loans given to the project on little more than a concept and a mushy promise of repayment.
The glory of the Excelsior strategy is that to discuss the truth of the project is to dig so deep into minutia and use insider terms so vague that its hard to draw much attention from the media or public. This development is no exception and it’s perhaps fitting that this provision was ensconced entirely in back rooms during the legislative session.
Key questions that I’ll be exploring over these next few weeks:
- How many jobs would a 100 mW peaking plant create compared to the 1,000 mW magic factory that was proposed back in 2001 when Iron Range Resources gave the first part of what would become $9.5 million in cushy loans? I’m betting not many at all, for the time, effort and money invested.
- Why is Bakk doing stuff like this during a gubernatorial run?
- Who is going to buy the energy from the natural gas plant?
- Will someone, anyone, who voted for this thing just say “Sorry. We screwed up. We won’t do things like this again,” please? Write it in sanskrit and mail it to my house. I won’t tell anyone.
And it goes on and on.