Range coal gas plant dealt setback in court

Oh, how I’ve enjoyed not writing about Excelsior Energy’s proposed Iron Range coal gasification plant, dubbed the Mesaba Energy Project, these last several months. Fans of this blog might remember my tireless bellowing about this topic over the past four years … no wait, it’s actually been seven. I could rehash it now, but let’s cut to the news.

Today Excelsior Energy was dealt a setback. Its appeal of the Public Utility Commission’s decision NOT to force Xcel Energy to purchase electricity from this yet-to-exist experimental facility was rejected. In other words, still no customer for the theoretical electricity. Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power’s appeal of the MEP’s designation as an innovative energy project was also, loosely speaking, rejected in favor of the PUC’s call that EE met the criteria for an IEP. In other words the court said keep up the good work PUC. And since the PUC has left this project, its supporters and opponents in a sort of hellish, money-sucking limbo for all time, this is not helpful for anyone.

PUC, IEP, EE, Xcel and MP … we didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been … OK, I’ll stop.

In essence, the same thing that always happens on this story happened again. Largely speaking, this project remains a boondoggle propped up solely by political support and political capital from local, state and federal officials. The technology and economics of the whole thing remain questionable at best, and that’s not even raising the environmental issues. The Mesaba Project has no customer, only a thin hold on permits and is proposed to be built on on a site where the capture and storage of carbon is geologically impossible. But because Excelsior’s organization is essentially a very experienced, accomplished lobbying firm it manages at every turn to get a result that’s quantifiably bad but that can be spun to sound good. This will remain true as long as Excelsior has money. It’s hard to say how much of the federal and state grants and Iron Range Resources loan money they have left, but I’m sure they’ll have enough to get on the news tonight with some hugely positive spin. Take that with a grain of salt. If you don’t hear much, it means they’re broke.

Meantime, the Iron Range just wants jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Sound familiar? How can you be against jobs, Brown? Jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobsy jobarooni. Here’s why. This project will never be built. This project is one of the few things I’ve encountered that makes me want to be a libertarian, which will make my dad very happy. So I guess that’s the only thing I got out of this personally. Uh, thanks? Meantime, real new jobs can only come from three sources: private sector innovation, nonprofit innovation and public works and services. Note that I do not include lobbying innovation, which is what Excelsior Energy is. Had Excelsior come to the table with private capital and/or public ownership I’d be wearing their hat right now. I might have even taken up golf and back slapping. Alas, I still hate golf.

Carol Overland, a legal counsel for some of the opponents to the project, offers her assessment here. The full ruling is here. My past writings are here. This is my 72nd post on Excelsior Energy. Not proud of that. Too bad those weren’t billable hours. Am I right people? Ha ha!


  1. Anonymous says

    They don’t have any money and couldn’t raise any if the project was given the go ahead. The IRR better ask for their money back. It’s our money anyway. Sad business. Too bad for us all.

  2. Anonymous says

    In a recent news segment, Channel 13 reported that the range is needing workers.

    I find myself confused.

    Jobs Jobs Jobs. Workers Workers Workers. Elected Officials Job Security? No bigger than the already ginormous legislative districts?

    Isn’t it vaguely possible that the number of existing jobs and people is matched and that a sustainable economy is what is needed?

    Maybe some oh, DIVERSIVICATION?????? (and not into heavily polluting mining in a whole new part of NE Minnesota.

    Why aren’t we developing lots of smaller and medium businesses? Where’s the push? It’s been a long time since we had anything but these huge hit it out of the park efforts for 400 jobs at a time.

    You’re a great writer – thanks for doing your job so very well. It’s always a surprise and a pleasure to read your column.

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