Big picture shows glum future for Range coal gas plant scheme

There was a hearing last night about the Environmental Impact Statement by Excelsior Energy for its Mesaba Energy Project near Taconite. The project would be a $2.3 billion coal gasification power plant. I didn’t attend. Fact is, the EIS is a small part of the issue with this project. The TV news — WDIO in particular — always paints Excelsior Energy’s project as a battle between a citizen environmental group opposed to the project and local leaders who support the project to get jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s exactly the narrative that Excelsior expected and wants. It plays into old emotions on the Iron Range and, if perpetuated, will lead to the defeat of “those environmentalists.”

The truth — so seldom reported — is that this project is a money-grab orchestrated by some very smart lobbyists, lawyers and consultants to exploit the financial resources of the Iron Range. The core of this company’s resources come from public sources. Their risk is absorbed by taxpayers. Future profits would go to the owners, not the people. The electricity isn’t needed in the amount they propose to produce. Existing power companies like Minnesota Power and Xcel think the whole thing is a joke, but don’t make a big deal because of all the precedent being set for future plants they may want to build. The “clean” technology can’t be used because of the geology of the proposed location and isn’t even in the actual proposal anyway.

Permitting is the least of the Mesaba Energy Projects problems. Their real problem is their overwhelming costs, their lack of a customer and rapidly developing renewable energy technology that makes their “innovative” project look more like the boondoggle it really is.

I don’t claim to know the level of sincerity on the part of Excelsior Energy’s officials. I only know that there is little chance this plant will be built and no practical chance of this project producing the results promised. Guess what? That wasn’t covered at the EIS hearing and you won’t see it on the TV news. At least, not yet.

UPDATE: You will hear deeper perspective on the radio, though. Here’s Minnesota Public Radio’s story.

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