New media punch, old media counterpunch

I’m no stranger to letters to the editor taking issue with something I’ve written, but today was a first. I got a letter opposing a column that never ran.

In a recent column, Aaron Brown made several inaccurate statements as he reviewed my editorial from the Duluth News Tribune. That editorial was in support of the Mesaba Project for a variety of reasons. Mr Brown suggested that the editorial was “spin job” orchestrated by Excelsior. I had no contact with Excelsior in writing the piece. Mr Brown stated that I opposed using “a combination of wind, solar, biomass, hydro, natural gas and — maybe, but not likely — nuclear.” I am not so opposed. I pointed out the serious limitations of wind, biomass, hydro, and solar which limit them to being a fairly small percent of the fuel for a large power plant. Natural gas works, but it probably won’t be available, and its cost is usually well above coal. I am a strong advocate of nuclear power, but it is not on at present.

My concern with wind is not the transmission lines, as Mr Brown claims. It is difficult to integrate more than about 10% wind into a power grid. Many claim Denmark is getting 20-30% of its grid energy from wind. The true number is less than 7%. Germany has the largest wind power capacity in the world and gets less than 6%.

The big problem with Mesaba is sequestering the CO2. The Midcontinent Rift is one posssibility, and it needs to be studied. Another little known fact is that the segment of the IR band that CO2 absorbs is actually saturated because of CO2’s relatively high concentration. Additional CO2 is still a problem, but not as much as other gases like methane and nitrous oxide which have a much greater global warming impact per molecule.

Rolf Westgard
Deerwood, MN

Writer is a professional member of the Geological Society of America, and a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists

The only problem with this response is that I wrote no such column. I did write a blog post at my old site that was probably confused for my weekly column that does run in the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Mr. Westgard submitted this letter to the Tribune, which apparently ran it anyway even though I doubt they knew what it was responding to. (As the kids say, WTF). The blog post that Westgard is referring to is at my old blog archive here. (Scroll down to the third item).

I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Westgard with my response. Below is a portion of that e-mail I am posting for the 8 people who follow this convoluted old media/new media dust up. (And I promise I won’t make a habit of publishing my correspondence with people I have public disagreements with. I’ll leave that to Harry Welty).

… on the subject of your letter: I grant you that wind in particular is limited as an overall percentage of the grid. But my problem with your piece was that you — if not opposed — certainly dismissed multiple renewable sources of energy but then failed to put Mesaba’s Excelsior proposal to the same standards. Again, I grant you that gasification is a cleaner technology with potential, but Mesaba’s proposal does not include sequestration and will be prohibitively expensive to build and operate. For the money it would take to develop this technology to its potential, we might be able to invest in any number of other options that wouldn’t involve coal at all. Further it is telling to me that most other major coal gas plant proposals in the country and world are stalling or dying — mostly on grounds of economics, not permitting. The CEO of Duke Energy says that these plants work best near the mouth of coal mines with easily accessible sequestration fields.

I also agree that my wording in my blog post was a bit conspiratorial. It merely seemed unusual to me that an op/ed so clearly in line with Excelsor’s argument would appear amid a storm of bad news for that particular company in the region’s largest newspaper. I accept that you acted of your own will and apologize for the insinuation. Anyhow, I’m sure we could have a spirited discussion. Your points are well taken.


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