New plan unveiled for Iron Range power plant

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For the past seven years, Excelsior Energy has been gathering permits and holding public hearings to build an integrated gasification combined cycle (clean coal) plant on the Iron Range. It received millions of dollars from the Renewable Development Fund, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and the federal government toward the project. To date, construction has not begun and a few key permits are still needed.

For another story with a distinctly different perspective, see Ten years and $41 million later, Minnesota “clean coal” plant is still vapor

The plan originally included just IGCC facilities; the new plan is to build a natural gas burning facility to power an IGCC plant that converts coal into a synthetic gas. The gas facility would later be converted into a second IGCC plant as demand necessitates.

In HF618, Excelsior Energy is seeking legislation that would extend the life of the IGCC permits already granted so the permits don’t expire before the conversion can occur.

The company also wants to waive future possibilities for contested case hearings before an administrative law judge because those have already been done on the IGCC model. Opponents say the switch from IGCC to a natural gas facility should start the clock over.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), the bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee’s omnibus energy policy bill. Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) sponsors SF417, a companion that awaits action by the Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock) said what’s currently proposed is not the same project that was permitted.

“You’re changing it from an integrated coal carbon capture project to a very standard run-of-the-mill natural gas plant. Obviously these things are different, so why shouldn’t the public be allowed to go and have their comments heard?”

Excelsior Energy attorney Tom Osteraas said there would still be opportunities for public hearings on the natural gas facility, just not contested hearings before an administrative law judge because those have already happened.

The project, designated as an innovative energy project site, has received exemptions and waivers not normally afforded private companies. Ronald Rich, an environmental and air quality consultant, said if a natural gas facility is built instead of an IGCC system, it should no longer be considered an “innovative energy project.”

The preferred site chosen for the plant is on 1,260 acres near Taconite, with an alternative site located near Hoyt Lakes. The company plans to use water from nearby mine pits as its main source of cooling water.

Excelsior Energy CEO Julie Jorgensen said the environmental impact statement issued last March laid the groundwork for acquiring the remaining state permits needed to begin construction. One of those permits is to identify a buyer for the power.