Land auction may scuttle beleaguered Range project

UPDATE: The land in question was sold at auction today … to Excelsior Energy! Some thoughts below.

The hard luck story of Excelsior Energy’s failed Mesaba Energy Project reaches a new milestone today as a land auction could deprive the proto-company of the site it named for its proposed power plant. The company had initially proposed a coal gasification plant some 10 years ago but has recently discussed converting to natural gas after efforts to find customers for the more expensive technology fizzled out. It stands to become one of the biggest economic development failures in the region’s history.

As Peter Passi reports in today’s Duluth News Tribune, losing the land for the site could jeopardize the permits awarded to Excelsior Energy, effectively killing the project.

The company owes an interest payment on a $9.5 million loan from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board by the end of the month, the first since the loan was restructured to attempt to save the beleaguered project. There are rumors the company is in talks with other utility companies to sell what it has, which is mostly just some of the permits. We ought to know within a couple weeks whether this long story has reached an end, or if there are more chapters ahead.

UPDATE: Looks like more chapters. Excelsior Energy bought most of the land being auctioned today (prevously they had only held “options” on the land). Though the company is still in no position to develop the project as they’ve described, this could be part of a move to package the project for sale.

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