Tuesday, March 29, 2011 By Aaron Brown
(The Strib story by David Shaffer and Glenn Howatt is still listed as premium, subscription-only content, so I'll share a different link if they post it on their main site later. Meantime, I encourage you to pick up a March 27 Strib. UPDATE: The link works now).
I would leave it at that, but this company has fresh sweetheart legislation lined up for this session, laws that would further relax the rules that govern this multi-million giveaway to a group of lawyers and lobbyists. I fear that state GOP lawmakers, despite past misgivings, will pass this legislation for fear of appearing anti-coal or anti-business.
As the Star Tribune story points out, Excelsior has already received two acts of law from the state legislature and another from Congress mandating its consideration in the private marketplace, along with other smaller supporting gestures from various government bodies. The company has spent more than $1.4 million in lobbying the legislature and PUC over the past six years, according to state data. Its executives have given away $134,000 in local campaign contributions to officials and political party units since 2001, according to Shaffer and Howatt. Excelsior executives put just $60,000 of their own money into the company, by all known data, which might clarify where all that lobbying and campaign money came from. Other than the lobbyists and lawyers involved, the project has created no jobs.
After a decade of fruitless arguments about the economics of "clean coal," this company is now asking that it be allowed to build a run-of-the-mill natural gas plant instead, with the hope that it could be converted to clean coal in the future. In other words, they would have the taxpayers and residents of the Iron Range underwrite all the risk and most of the capital for a power plant that Excelsior could sell at a profit, for a technology that Minnesota Power or Xcel would easily have built themselves if the power was actually in demand.
That's if it gets built, which it probably won't.
So yeah, how about a little accountability for our job creation dollars. Losing the money is bad enough, but the reason I get so angry over this little escapade is seeing it waste so much time and hope. Let's hope we get wise. Let's encourage private capital investment in our region and use public money for the public good.