Do We Need More Coal/Coal Plants?

coal-plant.jpgI’ve been following a thread I started a few days ago, “Enough of the Mayor and City Council Already“, in which I asked LG readers for suggestions about topics they’d like to discuss. I’ve made some notes as the comments unfolded, but one exchange is threatening to break out into a discussion over there, so I thought it would be best to give it a headline and keep things going here.

Carol Overland said,

. . .Energy Summit with Rep. Bill Hilty? He’s the House Energy Committee Chair who called me into his office to explain that we need more coal, just can’t do without it! That was not long after he presided over hours of CapX 2020 transmission promotional testimony and wouldn’t let me give my presentation against CapX 2020 (but hey, I got 2 or 3 minutes to testify!). That was just after he graciously gave the CapX promoters time to present AGAIN at the following committee meeting. The Committee only heard testimony of those with a contractual or employment obligation to promote CapX transmission! CapX 2020 is planned to run in the north end of SD25 (, the Cannon Falls meeting last month had the highest attendance of any across the state (I went to almost all of them). We sure don’t need suppression of information about CapX2020’s facilitation of new coal plants in the Dakotas at this critical juncture … sigh… well, this Summit should give him the opportunity to hear from those facing CapX 2020 in the neighborhood and learn how we can indeed do without coal!

Holly Cairns wrote,

That’s interesting, Carol. So you think Rep. Hilty meant that we should avoid sudden, economic, change? Do things slowly?

Ok, regarding the turbines: so we have electricity to our homes and DC doesn’t work as well… electrical stations at the base of every turbine would be stupid unless there was an expensive device to charge the battery faster and better than at our homes…

but let’s build turbines and have electrical cars, and have the city have a stake in renewable resource generation.

To which Carol replied,

Holly – no, I don’t think he meant doing things slowly. i think he meant what he said, I have to take at face value his statement that he supports building new coal plants (which is happening right now, they’re in permitting as we speak, it’s happening QUICKLY). he said that we “need new coal plants” and we can’t do it without coal, and that we need the transmission “for reliability” which he should know is really to do the bulk power transfer for market transactions (not regulated). To me, that means that he does not support change, and he said he supports more coal. He was not interested in how it can be done without coal, not in the least, he wanted to deliver a lecture on the need for coal! These new coal plants are billions and billions of dollars of irretrievable infrastructure commitments to coal plants and transmission lines that last 50+ years, and would grossly increase CO2 production, not to mention serious contamination with all the associated pollution, like mercury (ummmm… we already can’t eat the fish in MN, and with more falling from new coal plants, where will we be), pollution that will NOx your SOx off. The MN 2005 Transmission Omnibus Bill opened the door for new Dakota coal plants, and the 2007 “global warming bill” did nothing to stop all these new coal plants, instead giving them an exemption if they were in the pipeline. If they build these new coal plants, all the lightbulbs in the world, all the PV installations in the world, all the wind in Buff Ridge, will not effect the necessary change. He wants to go ahead with business as usual (and therefore not make the complicated and difficult and carefully plotted out changes to do our energy differently). He’s House Energy chair providing “leadership” that is forging down the same unworkable path. Instead we/they need to be standing up and turning the battleship around (that’s the slow painful change that we must make). Every time you hear someone yapping about global warming, CO2, ask them what they are doing to effect change, what changes they are working for — go beyond the talk. On a state and federal level, energy policy is going nowhere but warmer, lots of talk, lots of generation of CO2, and they’re not walking the walk. All the Minnesota legislative gains in wind and other “renewable” generation has been connected/tied with continued or ramped up noxious generation, coal and nuclear, when what we need is NO NEW COAL, and what we need is NO TRANSMISSION THAT FACILITATES NEW COAL. And don’t even get me going on our “Green Chameleon” Governor, or what these yahoos running for president think about coal… only Edwards has come out against new coal, Obama and Clinton are coal toadies.

On the other hand, there are a few of us working hard to stop the new coal plants and we’re doing pretty well, the utilities and promotesr are dropping plans, permits are being denied, contracts lost — check out the January/Feburary issue of Orion, look for “Stopping coal in its tracks.” It can be done, we’re doing it, but I sure wish that the policy wonks and well-funded “environmental” organizations would start leading and making real change, or at least get out of the way of those of us stopping coal.

… well, you asked!!!


  1. Tracy Davis said:

    Carol, this can be daunting for those of us who don’t follow the issue and its regulatory/legal battles closely. (I confess to being one who doesn’t). However, I do think it’s an important topic, with HUGE implications for the future. Can you point me in the direction of some online resources which don’t presume specialized or industry knowledge, but are written at something more than an eighth-grade level?

    January 20, 2008
  2. Tracy – thanks for noticing that this is a BIG issue! I can’t help but rant about it because, like feedlots, we’re going backwards so fast in so many ways, and there are SO many people yapping about CO2 and doing nothing but generate more. And on the other hand, we’ve stopped a LOT of coal plants, and it’s happened primarily because the economic and emissions information that’s been developed in the record here in Minnesota’s Excelsior Energy Mesaba Project proceeding has been SO damning. By getting this out to other jurisdictions where other projects are proposed, and where people are treated mushroom style, we’ve shed a light on it and the projects just can’t withstand it, down the go in flames! Many more are in trouble. IGCC/coal gasification and pulverized coal… Minnesota, Delaware, Arizona, Florida… there’ve been so many in the last six months, I’ve forgotten them all!

    For transmission and coal (particularly coal gasification), search my blog. For novices, it also has “Transmission for Dummies” and a lot of posts about it. To learn the lingo, just read “as if,” and it’ll grow on you, sort of like mold or fungus or whatever, too soon you’ll be hooked. For CapX 2020 transmission, the lines ripping through District 25, see or check their own site (it’s really slow). The ME3 website used to be a great source, but they disappeared it with their “Fresh Step” image change, but you can use the Wayback Machine to find stuff at

    For IGCC/coal gasification info in MN, also see my clients’ site at which has most of the info in the PUC dockets and also — they’ve got the serious documentation and some hilarious articles showing how ludicrous coal gasification is. There’s also some coal gasification stuff on (where we stopped another gasification plant) and for sure on
    Here’s a link on the money side of coal:
    Here’s a lot of technical info on coal and other noxious generation sources:

    If questions, I can find an answer or a source for one.

    January 20, 2008
  3. Holly Cairns said:

    I’m still trying to get through Carol’s response…

    What I see is a need for real, but slow, change. I think our economy could be strengthened if we had a “war” against non-renewable resources, but even then I think we should take it slow.

    I think any economy doesn’t like jolts. Also, it seems to me, some people should go first: the people who can make change happen should have a few dollars in their pocket.

    OR– what about this: It should be economically better for everyone in general to use renewable energy resources. And let’s create JOBS as we go along…

    Halt: I don’t like to hear that all, new, renewable energy initiatives have some tie to coal. What the heck is that about…. all of them?

    As for the economic summit, maybe Hilty needs to come clean about the coal issue. I’m sure there will be time for questions. Doesn’t seem like he’ll be a good one to bring us information.

    January 20, 2008
  4. Carol,
    I want to publicly thank you for your tireless work on coal/transmission/related issues. For those of you who don’t know Carol, she’s been fighting the good fight for MANY years (for example, being intimately involved in the effort to stop NSP -now Xcel- from storing Prairie Island’s spent nuclear waste rods off-site in Florence Township, Goodhue County back in 1994-1995).

    You’re right that no matter how much energy efficiency, wind and solar development, hybrid monster SUVs, etc. are brought on line, we’re screwed unless new coal can be stopped in its tracks. Carbon sequestration is a bogus, long-term-if-ever partial solution to coal’s CO2 problems, and will almost certainly be hugely expensive if any significant implementation is to occur.

    The best available science indicates we need to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately, and reduce them be a total of about 80% by 2050 or so, if we are to have any chance of preventing catastrophic global climate destabilization. Minnesota now has statutory language calling for GHG emissions reductions at this rate, but as Carol says, it’s time to translate the talk into action.

    There ARE clean, cost-effective alternatives to large central-station coal-fired or nuclear power plants. There will be a huge struggle for the hearts and minds of the American public in the coming years, with some emphasizing “clean coal” and nuclear as the only realistic alternatives available to meet America’s energy needs. I and many others disagree radically, and believe that energy efficiency; sustainable, community-scale, community-based bioenergy (and I emphatically do not mean corn-based ethanol or soybean-based biodiesel); community-based dispersed wind development; on-site solar; smarter growth and radically more rigorous building codes; radically more efficient transportation (including plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles), etc. are the way to deal with both peak oil and global climate destabilization.

    Come to Rep. Bly’s Energy Forum on January 31 ( to learn more and share your views. I’ll be there along with other members of the Northfield Energy Task Force, Rep. Bly, Rep. Hilty, and Mike Bull as noted elsewhere on this site. We’ll let you know what we think; you need to let US know what YOU think.

    January 20, 2008
  5. Time? Get real… More than three decades ago, my father was tracking nuclear at Elk River, designing coal plants and the solar system for the Minnesota Zoo, and here we are, WORSE off. Time’s up. Act now. Speak out. Most importantly, take responsibility, and hold everyone’s feet to the fire.

    Let’s all show up and make our feelings and ideas known… those who got notice letters for CapX 2020 transmission, all those with incinerators proposed in their neighborhood (i.e., Phillips’ Midtown Eco-Energy and/or Rock Tenn), all those driving an SUV, those who are looking at the transmission, water, gas and county road for Mesaba through their yard, those with windturbine flicker from insufficient setbacks from their homes, those living next to a proposed coal fly ash dump, or near a turkey-turd burner, or nuclear waste… Take our own responsibility for this mess, and hold that ()&*%#()@&*(^%#* legislature and Governor accountable for our lame “energy policy” that’s not getting the job done.

    GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR… well, better to be pissed off than pissed on!

    January 20, 2008
  6. Holly Cairns said:


    Your father was designing coal plants? Gasification or clean? Also, can you quickly bring us through the difference?

    The power lines CAPX2020 might be needed. What’s another choice re: distribution?


    January 21, 2008
  7. Mike Bull said:

    Well, for my part, I think Carol’s comments go way over the top in a number of respects. She and I are buddies going back a number of years now, so she won’t be surprised to hear me say that…

    I should probably preface my comments by giving folks some idea of my background. Prior to my current job (which, until last Thursday, was Assistant Commissioner of Commerce for Renewable Energy, but is now Assistant Director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security), I was:

    * Senior Policy Advisor for energy & the environment for Governor Pawlenty
    * Energy Policy Cooridinator at the MN Dept of Commerce under Gov. Ventura
    * Utility Consumer Advocate for Mike Hatch at the MN Atty General’s office
    * Senior Analyst & Leg. Director at the MN Public Utilities Commission.

    I also worked as the energy policy analyst for non-partisan research offices of both bodies of the MN legislature, which is where I worked for Bill Hilty for a number of years. I have a much different view than Carol does of Bill — I find that he’s consistently one of Minnesota’s most progressive and thoughtful policy makers on energy issues, and one of the most patient and honorable men I’ve ever met. We don’t always agree, but I always learn something from talking with him.

    I also have a much different view of Minnesota’s energy policy than does Carol. Last session was the most historic legislative session in Minnesota history for energy issues — and maybe the most historic session of any state, anywhere. Governor Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature worked together to enact legislation:

    1. establishing the most aggressive renewable electricity standard in the nation, requiring more than 25% of the electricity provided to Minnesotans come from renewable resources by 2025, with interim milestones & requirements
    2. doubling the energy efficiency requirements on Minnesota electric utilities (building on top of one of the top 5 energy efficiency programs in the country)
    3. strengthening Minnesota’s commitment to locally-owned renewable energy production, already nation-leading
    4. setting nation-leading greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets (80% by 2050), and a process to develop recommendations for additional actions necessary to meet those targets.

    These legislative accomplishments last session passed the MN legislature on an overwhelming bipartisan basis — more votes were cast against the proposal to make the honeycrisp apple the state apple, than against this entire package of historic energy legislation.

    January 21, 2008
  8. Holly –

    Q: “Your father was designing coal plants?”
    A: Yup, as a M.E., he worked for Tom Hammond, R.D.Thomas, Ross Hammond’s father (Ross is VP of Fresh Energy) on power plants of all sorts. As kids we toured infrastructure (as did Rep. Mike Beard’s family!). When he was in the nursing home, I’d bring in the dogs and EPRI reports I was reading on coal gasification and he’d light up.

    Q: “Gasification or clean?”
    A: He worked on pulverized coal. There is no such thing as “clean coal.”

    Q: “Also, can you quickly bring us through the difference?”
    A: Pulverized coal is coal ground up and burned. Gasification is coal mixed with water and gasified and burned. GAsification is old technology, remember gaslights? Most communities had a gasification plant, which left contamination that they are struggling to clean up today (google “gasification” and “contamination” and “Iowa” — also “Beulah” and “synfuel” and “contamination” for an idea of the problems) For basic info on gasification, see references way above for IGCC and gasification – and google “Wabash River” for info on the predecessor to the boondoggle Mesaba Project that even the PUC Chair agrees “won’t hunt.” To review the Mesaba docket, to to and then to “eDockets” and “Search documents” and search for docket 05-1993.

    Q: “The power lines CAPX2020 might be needed. ”
    A: Might? Nope, they’re not. Let’s have some empirical evidence for “might,” because everything I’ve seen (I’ve been on this one for over three years so far) says they need it only for increasing unregulated bulk power sales and utility profit, though transmission infrastructure paid for by ratepayers, and worse, they don’t have a market for it. There’s no sufficient “need” justification in the CapX 2020 transmission application or discovery. just their statements that they want it. To review the CapX 2020 docket in this, go to and then to “eDockets” and “Search documents” and search for docket 06-1116″ And don’t forget, transmission loses 30% shipping ~ 230 miles from Buff Ridge to Metro (from SW MN 345kV docket, testimony of Xcel’s Rick Gonzalez). Transmission is inherently inefficient, and it’s even a worse way to get wind on the grid. (and they don’t need this to ship wind to Chicago, there’s over 10,000 MW of wind in the MISO queue planned for Illinois).

    Q: “What’s another choice re: distribution?”
    A: (Distribution is lower voltage, from the transmission substations to the end user, so I assume you’re meaning how to get from here to there). First, the power isn’t needed, you don’t have to distribute what you don’t need. Second, nevermind, first is all that really matters. Conservation (demand and supply side management), site near load, interconnect renewable generation with low voltage transmission (so that central station coal can’t be connected!), it’s nothing new… conservation is by far the most cost effective.

    Q: “Hey Carol, Hilty authored a bill to reduce coal-fired plants.
    A: If you’re saying that the Energy Omnibus bill reduced coal-fired plants” that’s a myth. The Energy Omnibus (Ominous) bill provided exemptions for every plant in the pipeline and did not do anything to shut down any plant anywhere.

    Q: “What are you saying he’s for, again? Explain this to me.”
    A: As I said before, what he told me was that “we need coal” He also said that he supported IGCC (coal gasification) If you want, I’ll sign an affidavit about that meeting (I didn’t record it, but should have, I guess). If he’s changed his mind, he’ll have an opportunity to say it loudly and clearly at the “Energy Summit.” If he’s changed his mind, a good start would be to author a bill revoking the “incentives” for IGCC and Excelsior Energy (216B.1693 and 216B.1694). NOT ONE LEGISLATOR has authored that bill… WHY???

    January 23, 2008
  9. Hey Mike, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal… you outed us!!! GASP! Your reputation is shot now! … ahem…

    My initial comments seemed to have disappeared! So to reiterate, of course I expect we’ll differ, we’re representing different interests here, have different “bosses” and … why… we’re NOT twins wired in the frontal lobe (thank Dog, eh?). But you know I write all those comments on news articles across the state just to see if you’re on the job, right? And leave Dennis Courtier’s Honey Crisp apples out of it (hmmmm… maybe he’s got some old ones I could hand out to folks in the peanut gallery)

    I can see you have a different view of Hilty, but you’re also not questioning my veracity. He told me what he told me, he personally called me in to deliver his message, so maybe it was his evil twin??? Maybe someone impersonating him was in his office that day (as transmission lobbyists waited outside for their turn)? You’re not saying he doesn’t believe we need coal, and while duking it out about IGCC, you, Mr. Bull, have said the same to me, that “we need coal” and you’ve been at a lot of IGCC love-fests… as has Bill Grant of the Waltons, who has his power point promoting IGCC, eeeeeeuw… do Izaak Walton League members know about that? I just wish you all would be more creative about energy. Yes, I can hear you sigh… oh well..

    And yes, we have a very different view of energy policy. I’m representing real-live regular folks, people who get smacked upside the head with the impacts of energy policy, like Florence Township’s nuclear waste, City of Lindstrom’s Chisago Transmission, has Mesaba Project infrastructure of every type through their yards, and landowners next to, right next to, wind projects that don’t have sufficient setbacks and which benefit the former Speaker of the House! You’ve met “The Face of Mesaba” at that Ray Cox Northfield energy wing-ding, people who woke up one day with “energy policy” on their doorstep, and who turned to their government for help, and learned that their government was instead responsible for promoting the mess! They turned to “environmental” organizations, and learned that no one would even talk with them about it. Those that should be representing the people and saving the environment are coming up with policy and deals that hurt us all… nuclear relicensing and increased and new nuclear waste storage that will be with us forever; coal gasification that won’t go away despite an ALJ recommendation that says it’s too costly, won’t provide environmental benefits and is not in the public interest; thousands of miles of legislatively blessed CapX transmission to be paid for by ratepayers that facilitates coal and bulk power transfer for unregulated market transactions; statutes that allow “biomass” to burn garbage and promotion of biomass that has hazardous emissions; and let’s not forget ethanol plants that drain Minnesota aquifers; and then there’s those CO2 cap & trade schemes when we need a hefty carbon TAX and no “offset” shell games or CCX payments to emit … I could go on, but that’s what my blogs are for… and you know it all because we’ve gone round on it before.

    Come February, we’ll see if people are willing to do more about doing energy differently than generate more CO2!

    And as I said in my comment disappeared, I really miss those Ventura days. Remember the monthly “Breakfast with Commerce?” Instead, now, Commerce is making me lose my lunch…

    January 23, 2008
  10. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Sorry to hear Rep. Hilty may be listening to the wrong people. If those CapX transmission routes end up cutting through our area, we’ll all wish we’d gotten involved before now. Public comment period is now closed?

    January 23, 2008
  11. Mike Bull said:

    Heck no, Carol, I’m not questioning your veracity — I wasn’t there for the conversation. I wanted to give the community here at LoGroNo (I still like that) another view of the man. Whatever opinions Bill has about continued coal use or CAPX, I’m certain he came to those opinions after a deep and thoughtful consideration of the facts at his disposal. He’s not one to leap to conclusions, and, Stephanie, not one to come to conclusions based simply on what folks are telling him.

    For my part, I don’t think we should take coal off the table (or, frankly, any energy resource option). We are a small state, relatively speaking, with a small state economy, and I don’t think we should do things that jeopardize the reliability or cost-competitiveness of energy services to Minnesotans. I also think that there is an amazing amount of clean energy opportunities that we can implement within those constraints.

    And, the point of my previous post is that we are doing an incredible amount of those things. I read Carol’s posts, and, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we’re in the freaking dark ages relative to what other states are doing. That’s categorically not the case — over the past 5 years, Minnesota has vaulted into the top echelon of progressive energy states — top 5 or better. On just about any measure — energy efficiency, renewable electricity requirements, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, mercury emissions reductions, community-based energy development, biofuels development, etc.

    That’s not to say we can’t do better, or that folks think we can do more of this, or less of that (fill in your own “this” or “that”)… of course we can. But, I think, you absolutely have to start with being proud of the clean energy work we’re doing in Minnesota, on a bipartisan, nation-leading basis. As one who works in these trenches every day, by all means, criticize us, but give us our due 🙂

    And come out to the Energy Summit!

    January 23, 2008
  12. David Henson said:

    I read an article in the Economist a few years ago that was about distributed energy that predicted the coming revolution to Utilities ( getting off the grid ) would be much greater by degree than the Internet revolution was to telcom. I could find a free link to the article but Wiki has some info : ( the Cannon River ? )

    January 23, 2008
  13. Mike – we’re not a small state, we’re mid-sized or larger. Delaware is a small state!!! When they talk about “need” and their entire state’s demand, I can’t help but snicker. And even corporate haven Delaware had the sense to reject NRG’s coal gasification (IGCC) proposal and instead choose offshore wind with gas as backup (though that contract is a mess of its own).

    Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel, “needed” and was authorized to put out an RFP for 375MW by 2015, and now has claimed “changed circumstances” and said they probably don’t even need that. So then just where is this claimed 4,500-6,300MW in the CapX “region” needed? We’ve, in MN, implemented many changes, with more to come, yet this same inflated “need” claim on the part of utilities, inconsistent with their Integrated Resource Plans, persists. It’s evident in the way that CapX “planners” didn’t even look at the MISO queue to see what was waiting in line for interconnection — so they said when they unveiled their plan years ago at a MAPP meeting. For those curious with what’s waiting in line, here’s a link to an Excel spreadsheet with states separated out. You can see what each state has waiting in line. You can sort it by fuel type and add it up (be prepared! It’ll surprise you no matter what fuel type you select) Keep in mind that many of these projects will never be connected, but many will. There’s lots and lots of choices, and if we consider our choices we’ll never need more transmission, well, not NEVER, but very little. We can choose our generation and we can choose the site.

    Here’s the direct link to the official MISO queue, you can download it and make your own spreadsheet:

    Here’s a link to a spreadsheet I formatted for the CapX docket, note the separate sheets for states:

    To know whether CapX transmission is necessary, look at this queue and see where the generation is compared with load. To see whether CapX transmission is needed to “get wind to market” from SD/ND to IL, look at all the wind in line all over, and note that Illinois has over 10,000MW of wind of its own so they don’t need ours or ND/SD. It’s all about market. And if we build transmission, if we pay for it, and there’s no market — well, why ever would we do that? Always ask about the market…

    ND/SD has a study about this, saying essentially that they don’t have the $$$ to build all this transmission, that they want to build more generation (COAL) and oh, a little wind too, but there’s no market. It’s done by a guy who was an officer in Excelsior Energy, Schulte:

    CapX is an effort to create that market to facilitate coal. To find coal projects in ND and SD, beyond those listed in the MISO queue (? 10,000MW of coal?) do some googling, and again, be prepared. They want to build, and as Betsy Engleking said way back when she was with GRE, “If you build transmission, we’ll build coal; if you don’t, we’ll have to do distributed generation.” Yup, that about says it…

    January 24, 2008
  14. Mike – I beg to differ. While Minnesota may get credit for some measures and ‘appear’ as you say, to have “vaulted into the top echelon of progressive energy states — top 5 or better. On just about any measure — energy efficiency, renewable electricity requirements, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, mercury emissions reductions, community-based energy development, biofuels development, etc” …what about ‘the elephant’ in the state aka Otter Tail Power Co., better known as lead for the proposed Big Stone II (dark ages) coal-burning power plant conveniently ‘placed’ across the border in South Dakota? BSII, conveniently ‘exempted’ from MN’s progressive energy plans? Conveniently ‘hands-off’?

    I am disappointed. As a former Minnesotan (albeit border-girl, rural western Minnesota, Big Stone County, so maybe that does not count) I thought Minnesota really was progressive –

    Don’t forget Minnesotans, you know what the prevailing winds will bring, to say nothing of the drain on water resources of walleye producing Big Stone Lake, and the recreational Minnesota River. Let’s face it – Big Industry, BIG INVESTORS want to bring in BIG TRANSMISSION for more coal than you can begin to imagine and we know who will be paying for it in the long run, health-wise, economically, environmentally. Time to make the switch, the REAL transition to jobs producing, rural economy revitalizing, no-health risks, CLEAN 21st Century NEW energy!

    State Program Coordinator
    Clean Water Action SD

    January 24, 2008
  15. Alan Muller said:

    Seems to me that Minnesota is doing some things right and some things wrong in regard to “energy.”

    The growth of wind capacity is clearly a good thing.

    Xcel’s December 14, 2007 Integrated Resource Plan filing shows wind as a percentage of their projected energy mix increasing from 7% now to 22% in 2020. (page 7-6). By then, Xcel would own or contract for about 3800 MW of wind capacity (page 5-9). The same plan shows “biomass” decreasing from 3% to 2% share and the Xcel garbage burners in Red Wing and Mankato shutting down (page 6-7).

    Good stuff.

    On the other hand, look at the way the Pollution Control Agency is shamelessly promoting garbage incineration, implying that it will help solve global warming.

    Look at how the state gave the St. Paul Port Authority $4 million to shove a burner into St. Paul, contrary to the wishes of the community.

    Look at how the Pawlenty administration seems to be promoting a biomass burner in a poor, already-polluted part of Minneapolis. This burner would put a million pounds per year of pollutants into that community….

    Bad stuff…..


    January 24, 2008
  16. Mike Bull said:

    Well, as I said everyone wants us to do “more of this, or less of that (fill in your own “this” or “that”)”…

    I love this stuff, and think all of this is great fodder for debate. On the other hand, I also want to be sensitive to the folks who administer and read these pages — I don’t want to hi-jack the blog with energy discussion, especially if that discussion isn’t with local Northfield folks. (The last couple of commenters are from South Dakota & Delaware, respectively — not to say that they don’t make great points, and are entitled to express their opinion.)

    If there’s an interest in digging down deep into this stuff on these pages, I’m happy to do it. Otherwise, folks can come out to the Northfield Energy Summit, and we can talk about it there. 🙂

    January 24, 2008
  17. Alan Muller said:

    Well, Mike, I spend about half my time in Red Wing. As I sit here, if Barn Bluff were removed, I’d see the stacks of Xcel’s Red Wing garbage burners, burning garbage hauled in from the Cities.

    If you guys succeeded in moving that burning to St. Paul it might advantage me, and reduce emissions from garbage hauling, but would it be good public policy…?

    If Minnesota approves transmission that enables more coal units to be built on the MN/SD border, who will breathe the SO2 and eat the mercury in the fish? Maybe you should be encouraging people in the Dakotas to weigh in on Minnesota’s energy policies…?



    January 24, 2008
  18. Jane Moline said:

    I think there are several forces at work. The government and the utility companies who want slow, gradual change because they foresee and economic challenge, and the people, who have pretty much accepted climate change as a problem and want our government and utilities to take actions now.

    One of the earlier comments spoke of the good things in the Minnesota energy bill passed this year. I think there are many who saw if for what it was–a nice gesture.

    We need real action, including taking coal off the table and focusing on alternatives, flexibility and conservation. We should also be talking about taking ethonal out of the mix as it is merely a substitute for oil with little, if any CO2 emmision advantages.

    We need to bite the bullet and see that clean energy may cost more–and we may be better incented to conserve more!

    And then we need to take action with our surrounding states (and country-Canada) to keep our environment safe to ensure clean air and water.

    January 24, 2008
  19. Holly Cairns said:

    Those are interesting links, David. Thanks for that.

    After reading, I’m thinking that projected growth and projected need aren’t good reasons to put in the CapX2020 lines. And more coal plants aren’t the answer… are they. Good work, Carol.

    I think it’s funny that particles in the air might help prevent global warming. Remember those pictures of California smog? Ha ha. Who knew it was a good thing. Wait, that’s irresponsible to argue.

    As it is, now, no renewable resource seems to make much of a difference when compared to overall consumption. I wish we had an Edison working on possibilites.

    January 25, 2008
  20. Griff – Northfield Superfund Site info – DuFours Cleaners
    Sorry it took so long to dig this up, and once I started digging, it was way too hard to find, but here it is:

    There was a meeting in 2004 that I went to but I can’t find anything on it… I’ve asked the contact below for links.

    Here’s some specific info, it’s all I can find:

    Somewhere there are testing well location and plume maps, showing the plume approaching Cannon River.

    Here’s the MPCA contact info:
    Nile Fellows
    Title: Superfund 1
    Division: Remediation
    Section: Superfund & Emergency Response
    Phone: 651/296-7299
    Fax: 651/296-9707

    January 28, 2008
  21. I just got this back from Nile Fellows:

    At this time we do not have much available electronically on DuFours

    I am checking with my consulting firm to see what they might have

    A Soil Vapor Extraction System (SVE) was installed in December 2004. It
    operated until levels of VOCs being removed were reduced significantly.
    Since 2006 the SVE was operated periodically and was finally turned off
    July 2007.

    Levels of VOCs in the ground water have been reduced. The wells near the
    river have been non-detect since June of 2005.

    The primary concern at this time is some LNAPL near the source. The
    amount has varied with the season. IN February 2007 the LNAPL was .12
    ft thick and 1 gallon was hand bailed at one location.

    At this time we will be sampling monitoring wells again this spring. We
    believe we are at a decision point as to whether we have done all we can
    at the site as the area has improved.

    So, that’s the update, Griff … nothing to do with coal, but hey, you asked!

    January 28, 2008
  22. John George said:

    One of the things I have not seen discussed here , unless I missed it all the technical jargon, is the whole concept of having a grid. If I understand it correctly, and I am definitely not an Electrical Engineer, it is important to keep the phase consistent between power sources when dealing with AC current. If any of you remember the huge black-outs in the Northeast a few years ago, they were caused by the various sources getting out of phase. This became a domino effect across the whole system, shutting down a whole bunch of generating plants so they would not be damaged. This problem is not quickly rectified by flipping a switch. Each plant must be brought back on in the proper sequence, or the whole thing happens all over again. The supposed need for a grid is to be able to transmit power from an area of lesser demend to an area of greater demand without interupting service. If this demand can somehow be forseen and predicted, we should be able to get along with local power companies, only.

    When we lived in Owatonna, there was a municiple power company that handled the demands of the city. Unfortunately, it became more expensive to produce local electricity than to but it off the grid, or so we were told, so the local plant was shut down. The result was felt when that big ice storm hit Southern Minnesita a few years later. The lines went down and so did the power. If we had kept the local plant going, it could have kicked in at that time and fulfilled the local needs.

    It seems that what St. Olaf has done with their wind turbine makes the most sense. They are able to draw directly from it without having to go through the grid. I’m not sure how economically feasible it would be for municipalities to set up the same type of system, as I think I heard these things go for about a million and a half apiece. The other concern I would have with wind energy only is what our climactic changes will produce 20 to 50 years in the future. Right now, we are experiencing an increase in the wind levels in this area, or so it seems. What happens when the wind stops blowing? It seems we should have some type of backup system in place.

    I grew up close to an Amish settlement in SE Iowa. Those people have not appreciatively changed the way they live for years. They would not be affected if the whole system fell down around them, because they are not dependent on it. Our whole economy has become so energy dependent that making an abrupt change, I believe, could cause collapse. Perhaps we are headed for collapse, anyway, and we will be forced to change. I just don’t know for sure. The question I still have not heard an answer to is how fast we can impliment change without triggering disaster. Until that time, I am going to continue making personal changes the best that I can, but I am doing so with a wary eye behind me.

    January 28, 2008
  23. Holly Cairns said:

    John Thomas said:

    It seems that what St. Olaf has done with their wind turbine makes the most sense. They are able to draw directly from it without having to go through the grid. I’m not sure how economically feasible it would be for municipalities to set up the same type of system, as I think I heard these things go for about a million and a half apiece.

    Now that’s what I’d like to see. Brilliant! How do we get there? This could be the alternative to CapX2020. Maybe the 30% energy loss (that happens in transmission) is enough incentive for local wind turbines. 30 energy loss happens in transmission, right, If I read Carol’s comment #9 correctly:

    And don’t forget, transmission loses 30% shipping ~ 230 miles from Buff Ridge to Metro (from SW MN 345kV docket, testimony of Xcel’s Rick Gonzalez). Transmission is inherently inefficient, and it’s even a worse way to get wind on the grid.

    John George: Drawing directly from the wind turbine: It sounds like what Edison provided. There must be some connection to the grid, still, but the old power lines would suffice and no need for CapX2020.

    I know, Carol and many others are way ahead of me on this issue. I’m showing my ignorance.

    On the coal issue: While listening to
    the other day, I heard about the Advisory Panel on Climate Change suggestions, one of them being to exempt the Mesabi and Big Stone coal plants from new standards which would set a carbon limit.

    You mean they would suggest the usage of old practice, and not even suggest a step for the best? The issue must be cost of production, and cost passed on to consumers. Sounds like a no-win situation, and so don’t build those plants in Minnesota. Better to go wind, and better to be directly wired. You’d think an advisory panel on climate change would at least suggest these very basic changes… why didn’t it suggest these changes?

    Here’s a article on exempting the coal plants which tells the plants would emit 68 percent more carbon dioxide than the standard that the climate change panel initially backed, and a article describing how difficult it is for the Advisory Panel to come to agreement over the coal plant and other issues.

    Here’s the url for the articles, again, hope they work:

    January 29, 2008
  24. Holly Cairns said:

    That was John George, not John Thomas, I quoted in the first part of my comment #24.

    January 29, 2008
  25. Holly Cairns said:

    Look at this idea:

    GM Hy-Wire water car on Top Gear

    After you get past the Mazda, it gets pretty interesting. Wait until you hear what the car COULD power. BBC Prime says in the video that this will be the car we are driving in ten years. Unless someone kills it.

    (Just messing around with Daiko’s youtube widget for a blog, and that’s how I came across this video.)

    January 29, 2008
  26. Mike Bull said:

    This is really good stuff! The only thing I’ll add is that often these discussions focus on “either/or”, when often time, the optimal solutions are “both/and”…

    An example: we (the MN Office of Energy Security) are overseeing a technical transmission study of the statewide potential for dispersed generation, trying to find the”sweet spots” in the transmission grid where over 1200 megawatts of dispersed renewable energy projects under 40 megawatts each an be added to the system without a great deal of new transmission investment.

    At the same time, we’re supportive of the CAPX-type large backbone transmission infrastructure projects (I say CAPX-type projects because the regulatory process will determine whether these specific projects proposed by the CAPX utilities are needed).

    Some will think that’s a contradiction, that you can’t be supportive of dispersed renewable generation *and* big honkin’ transmission lines. But I think that’s a false dichotomy — I think that they support each other, bringing different economics and reliability benefits to the table, and both types of solutions should be implemented, to provide the best blend of benefits to Minnesota.

    January 29, 2008
  27. John S. Thomas said:

    Ah Holly… the joys I have of having a common name…

    No worries. I guess I will have to read this discussion now, since I have been called upon.

    I would like to comment briefly though, and I have to go back and re-read the article in the Star Trib by H.J Cummings regarding the pending applications for Wind Turbines. 612 years at the current rate.

    …the biggest immediate problem is the bottleneck at the regional agencies of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — Midwest ISO, in 15 Upper Midwest states — that give projects permission to connect to existing power lines.

    From: (Cummins, 2008)

    The article also goes on to state that even with changes in the procedures and grouping of applications, it will take well over 50 years to process all of the current applications.

    It just amazes me, that we have these folks ready to go, to implement a methodology to get clean, renewalble power, yet we have this huge roadblock in place.

    I would have to ask this of the group, as I do not know… do we have the transmission infrastructure to move this power if it was there?

    I get the perception that these new lines are primarily for the Coal plants in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Southeastern Montana.

    It would make more sense to keep the power sources as close to the users as possible, so that you would not need all of this infrastructure. Problem is, some sites are much better than others for power generation.

    I need to get more informed on this subject. Thanks for allowing me to participate.

    January 29, 2008
  28. John S. Thomas said:

    I just saw this come through as well…

    Energy Department backing out of Illinois-bound FutureGen project, officials say

    By Bob Secter | Tribune reporter
    3:43 PM CST, January 29, 2008

    The big clean coal development coup Illinois thought it had locked up only last month appeared to be evaporating Tuesday, with members of Illinois’ congressional delegation saying the Bush administration was pulling the plug on the $1.8 billion FutureGen power plant of the future that had been awarded to Downstate Mattoon. (long link to Chicago Trib)

    Not good news.

    January 29, 2008
  29. Mike Bull said:

    John — re: your post #29 — part of the problem is the MISO queue/interconection process, which was well-described in the article you referenced. They (MISO) just didn’t see the tidal wave coming but they are scrambling big-time to catch up.

    The other part of the problem wind developers are facing is transmission capacity. Even if the MISO queue/interconnection process gets reformed in the ways described in the article, that will still only lead to a “faster no” for wind developers in our region, unless we develop the additional transmission infrastructure necessary to carry the wind energy from where the best wind resources exist to where it can be used. The additional infrastructure needed includes both the lower cost, lower voltage “gathering lines” (from the “sweet spots” I described in my post #28), and larger, more expensive, higher voltage transmission lines.

    January 29, 2008
  30. Holly Cairns said:

    Mike, there’s that grid mentality, again.

    What if we built for local consumption, and stayed connected to the grid for no wind days?

    Processing the wind apps is a problem? Sounds like inefficiency, to me, and like someone is playing for big money elsewhere.

    January 29, 2008
  31. Mike Bull said:

    Hi Holly…

    We can and should do that, to some extent, but, honestly, the economics don’t support it as the dominant paradigm. To have every municipality provide for its own electricity needs would be overwhelmingly expensive — we’d lose too much in terms of economies of scale and in terms of energy reliability.

    But, the economics are getting somewhat better, as technology advances. We want to make sure we support (and not exclude) that more dispersed generation model going forward, so that we can take advantage of the benefits of that model as the technology gets better. And that’s what we’re trying to do as state policy. That’s a good example of “both/and” and not “either/or”.

    January 29, 2008
  32. Holly Cairns said:

    oh, and thanks for being so nice, John Thomas.

    What about the MISO problems, again? Scrambling to catch up? Didn’t see the tidal wave coming? Someone must have been thinking about building coal plants instead of anticipating a need for alternative fuel sources.

    Sounds like we’re just going to keep on doing the same, now that I think about it.

    January 29, 2008
  33. John George said:

    I haven’t taken the time to search out the specific article (again, my limited time & computer skills conflict), but it seems I read somewhere about when the Buffalo Ridge wind turbines were first installed, the transmission lines from the area were too small to handle the energy production. It seems there was more potential for generation than anyone thought possible. Now that we have that figured out, it seems we need to be aware of distribution when it comes to installing new generating facilities, especially when it comes to wind. There is a lot more variation in wind patterns than, say, water turbines operated from an impoundment.

    Has anyone driven through northern Iowa recently? There is a very large wind farm just west of 35 north of Clear Lake. It has been there a few years. Just a couple weeks ago, I traveled through there again, and there is another large facility being installed on the east side of the freeway. If you go east on 18, there is another large facility going up near Charles City. Seems our southern neighbors have hit upon something. There must be some economic potential with these things if they have made that kind of commitment to wind power.

    January 29, 2008
  34. William Siemers said:

    There is a large wind farm…at least 50 large turbines…on the road between Owatonna and Rochester. I drove by last week and not one was turning. Anyone have an idea why that would be? (Yes… there was wind…quite a bit in fact.)

    January 30, 2008
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    Carol, thanks for the off-topic info on DuFours Cleaners (#21 & 22). But they’re located at 6th and Division, no where near The Crossing. I think you might be thinking of the old Pilgrim Cleaners?

    January 30, 2008
  36. Lots of good discussion. To continue it, be sure to try to attend one of several energy/global climate instability-related local events today and tomorrow. See a blog entry I just posted at for the details on tonight’s Focus the Nation 2% Solution webinar on the Carleton campus, day-long events at Carleton tomorrow, and the House District 25B Energy Summit tomorrow (Thursday, January 31) tomorrow from 5:30 to 8 in the Buntrock Commons Valhalla Room on the St. Olaf campus.

    January 30, 2008
  37. BruceWMorlan said:

    Last night at the Bridgewater township board meeting Senator-elect Kevin Dahle heard that the township would like to see more requirements that local municipalities build local power generation (whether they use coal, nuclear, wind or solar is up to them, methinks). This reflects a thought that perhaps it is unfair to build huge plants a long way from the need, then slap high-tension power lines through politically weak townships. Luckily, Bridgewater is not weak, and we hope to continue to wrest power from the central governments. Along the way we will be directly supporting Gov. Pawlenty’s stated goal that Minnesota provide 25 percent of its power from within (though we obviously do not agree that ethanol, at least from corn, is part of that equation). After all, his 25% is a minimum, and if we set our target higher, we’ll cover his bet and raise it!

    January 30, 2008
  38. Mike Bull said:

    Absolutely, Bruce (well, Bruces plural)…

    To Bruce M in particular — a couple of weeks ago, the Governor announced our Local Renewable Energy Initiative, to provide financial assistance (long term, low interest loans) to local units of government to support the installation of small scale renewable generation in their jurisdiction. Here’s a link to the MPR report: (not sure how to do links here, but if it doesn’t work, you can cut and paste). The Intitiative is subject to legislative approval.

    Holly — I think its fair to say that MISO was focusing their attention & resources on things other than transmission planning to support wind development. I guess in their defense, transmission engineers generally had very little confidence that high percentages of wind energy could be integrated reliably and cost-effective “integrated” into the electric system, until our Minnesota Wind Integration Study was issued in November 2006. That was game-changing and set the stage for the Minnesota Renewable Electricity Standard last session (requiring over 27% of our electricity to come from renewables by 2025), and the Midwest Governors Association regional committment of 30% renewable electricity by 2030. That MGA effort was co-chaired by Governor Pawlenty and Governor Doyle of Wisconsin.

    We’ve put the same kind of team together for the dispersed generation study (referenced in my post #28) that we did for the Wind Integration Study…

    January 30, 2008
  39. Holly Cairns said:

    Energy summit is tonight. I hope they discuss things like: Would it be safe to use hydrogen fuel (and what would we have then, hydrogen fuel generating plants?) Also, why build for a future we hope we don’t have. And what incentives can be provided?

    Okay, so the wind turbine would replace the power plant… so less wires… but DC isn’t as good as AC…

    Hopefully they’ll edumacate me tonight at the meeting. And hopefully Carol and Mike will come and interject the knowledge we need so we can talk about important things.

    January 31, 2008
  40. Felicity Enders said:

    Jane, I agree 100% with your post #19. I don’t care if MN is in the top 5% of states, the entire country is WAY behind on this, and radical change is needed yesterday. Anne, I also applaud your efforts, and hope you continue your work in this area. Certainly the energy bill didn’t go far enough, and exempting current coal plans and coal-in-the-works is quite frankly reprehensible. That being said, Mike, I really appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues through this forum. Getting to real change quickly is essential.

    Imagine the following negative side effects of climate change that could happen in Minnesota. Crops develop new diseases due to variation in temperature. Water table drops, and additional energy is used to access deeper water, continuing the climate change cycle. Expansive drought in the southern US leads to a state vs. state fight for water rights (such as happened in the south this year), including a pipeline to pull water from the great lakes down south emperiling MN resources. Nations that depend on glacial melt for drinking water go into drought conditions as glaciers disappear, causing massive refugee migration and potentially wars over resources. OK, that last is obviously global, but it’s one of the biggest potential problems I see from climate change, and would likely have a big impact on resources available at the federal level.

    Now imagine the opposite: Minnesota leads the US in helping not just slow climate change but actually reverse it. In the process, we develop a new industry or two (wind and solar development, at a guess) and create jobs which stimulate our state economy. We likely institute mass transit throughout the state and probably across state lines, so people can easily and quickly commute to the twin cities or down to Rochester or up to Duluth, without driving. In doing so, communities along the commuter rail lines get a huge influx of new residents, quickly followed by businesses. The rail lines are also used to transport farm products with reduced usage of trucks. Minnesota’s natural areas are preserved and even enhanced, promoting tourism which also gets a boost because tourists can get directly from the airport onto a train and ride close to their destination. Finally, healthcare costs go down a bit because morbidity and mortality associated with pollution are greatly reduced. Maybe the last one is dreaming too far, but the rest present very real possibilities if only our leaders will lead the charge.

    I guess my big message is that traditional economics seems to miss the boat in this discussion, both in terms of the unintended costs of coal and other traditional energy sources and the potential benefits of real renewable efforts. Market-driven plans which don’t account for the negative impacts of each product on society are leading us down a dangerous path.

    Too bad I can’t make it to the energy summit.

    January 31, 2008
  41. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Barn Dance tomorrow night, Sunday, 6-9 pm. It’s a great barn, I’ve been there.

    Go out Cedar to stop (cty 86), turn left on 86, watch for 8919 on north side of road (2-3 miles).

    Citizens Energy Task Force presents:

    Barn Dance and CapX Public Hearing Energizer
    Featuring the Prairie Creek Group Dance Band
    Sunday, June 22, 2008, 6:00 PM – 9 P.M.
    Carrie Jenning’s Barn: 8919 280th St. W, Northfield, MN

    Bring your friends and neighbors: anyone interested in learning about alternatives to the CapX high voltage transmission line planned for your neighborhood. Donations to support legal work of Citizens Energy Task Force.

    JOIN US and…

    align with others who believe the CapX lines are the wrong kind, at the wrong time.
    demand an alternative to the CapX power lines.
    receive information on alternatives to the CapX lines.
    receive coaching with CETF attorney Paula Maccabee for citizens who want to speak up in public hearings .
    have a great time at the community dance.
    help fund the Citizens Energy Task Force legal work.
    The decision on whether or not the CapX 2020 power lines will be built is a critical decision about Minnesota’s energy future. Whether or not the power lines may cross their land, citizens concerned about rate increases, conservation, renewable energy, local jobs or the long-term ability of Minnesota to provide our own energy security have a lot at stake with the CapX projects.

    For additional info:
    Carolyn Joyce 507-645-6359 or

    June 21, 2008
  42. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Barn Dance was a great event, good band. Many people in the Nfld area are in a “wait and see” mode as to where these high voltage lines will end up. This is a great mistake.

    Hopefully, my letter to editor may get in Wednesday paper, with list of locations for the public hearings this week, starting with June 25, Wed, New Prague HS Commons, 221-12th St. NE, New Prague.

    For more info, call Bev Topp or Atina Diffley or check website

    June 23, 2008
  43. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Oops–forgot the time. The Wed. CapX hearing at New Prague HS is at 5 pm.

    June 23, 2008
  44. Mike Bull said:

    fyi… There is a coalition of environmental groups (Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Wind on the Wires and the Izaak Walton League) that are supporting the proposed CapX lines with the condition that the capacity of the lines be reserved for wind & other renewables — similar conditions to the ones successfully imposed on the Xcel 345kv line from Buffalo Ridge in 2003.

    June 23, 2008
  45. Mike –
    Come on, full disclosure… Have you told everyone here that you now work for Izaak Walton/Wind on the Wires promoting transmission? Under FERC rules, as you know, it’s not possible to discriminate among generation types, and for some reason, nobody is talking about what coal is in the MISO queue, which MISO said in Information Requests was 3,441MW, and it’s been there for a long time. Also, that SW MN line wasn’t for wind, the powerflows for it showed at most 213-302MW coming off of Buffalo Ridge at Nobles Substation, and that is into a line with a capacity of 2085MVA — the line for CapX is a couple hundred higher potential capacity!!! Also, please address assessment for capital transmission cost from interconnecting generators, wind v. anything else, because it sure isn’t favorable to wind!

    How have the public hearings been? I’m still out of town, but maybe Rochester…



    June 23, 2008
  46. Mike Bull said:

    Hi Carol — I thought I had disclosed that… but now I see that it got chopped off (I’d put around it, so maybe that does something!)

    Full disclosure (without the this time) — I’ve left state government to become the regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, the Midwest regional partner to the American Wind Energy Association. WoW’s membership includes wind developers (both large and community energy developers), environmental advocacy groups like Izaak Walton League, ReNew Wisconsin and others, and goods & services providers.

    June 23, 2008
  47. Thanks, Mike. Gotta try to keep you honest here!

    Hot off the press – Major development in here in Delaware — first U.S. offshore wind project is one step closer, the utility signed a PPA. And dig this, the PSC last year, when faced in a level-playing field RFP choice between IGCC/coal gasification and wind and natural gas, recommended a wind/gas combo, and y’all can guess who was advocating for that!
    For more info:

    No New Coal!

    June 24, 2008
  48. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    CAPX transmission routes are soon to be chosen, yet there has been no activity on this topic since June?? Seems clear our legislators did not know what they were approving in 2005 or so, and still don’t.

    December 29, 2008

Leave a Reply