An energy policy bill passed 82-49 by the House would enable an undeveloped Iron Range coal gasification plant to start out simply as a natural gas plant, with the potential to upgrade as a coal gasification plant in the future. However, it also could enjoy all the advantages it was granted when it was first proposed as an innovative energy project.
Natural gas plant technology has been around since the 1920s, said Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson). He and several others didn’t feel it was right to keep the same perks in the bill as when it was proposed as a new “clean coal” plant, such as eminent domain.
Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock) unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to delete provisions that would afford the company, Excelsior Energy, eminent domain and to bypass contested case hearings that it was granted when the project was considered an innovative energy project.
“This is terrible public policy,” said Falk.
Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) said what was supposed to bring jobs to the Iron Range since 2001 has not materialized and has cost more than $41 million to ratepayers and taxpayers. “Please put an end to this project. From a fiduciary point of view, from a public policy point of view, please stop this madness,” Anzelc said.
But Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) said killing the project now while it still has a chance to produce jobs and a return on public investment would be like “flushing all this money down the drain.” He urged members to support allowing the project to go forward.
Other provisions in the bill include:
- eliminating inverted block rates;
- removing a $5 million grant for 2012 for the Initiative for Renewable Energy and Environment at the University of Minnesota; and
- allows utilities to notify ratepayers via email for those with electronic billing.