Senate bill could pass Crown Hydro Project

The bill is in the early stages, but it would forego the decision made by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Minnesota Senators introduced a bill Thursday that, if passed, would allow construction of two hydroelectric turbines near St. Anthony Falls despite the Minneapolis Park and Recreation BoardâÄôs previous decision to reject the project. The Crown Hydro project would be built 42 feet under the west bank of the Mississippi River and could generate enough energy for at least 2,000 homes if it receives a lease from the MPRB. Crown Hydro received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 1999, but the MPRB voted against further examination of the project 5-4 in December 2007. However, if passed, the new bill would amend the current law that requires a favorable vote from the MPRB for the project to go forward. The bill proposes that municipal consent could be skipped if a qualified hydroelectric project has proper federal approval. The board members who opposed the project voted it down because they worried it would compromise the beauty and history of the St. Anthony Falls area. Senator Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont and a co-author of the bill , said she supports building the plant because it seems to be a perfect fit for the direction renewable energy in the state is heading. Rosen said she helped compose the bill as the lead Republican for energy in the Senate but said the controversial bill might not have a chance to be passed. The bill is moving slowly and has no House of Representatives sponsor. âÄúI had higher expectations,âÄù she said. âÄúI am not sure if the chair of the energy committee is even going to give it a hearing.âÄù Crown Hydro spokeswoman Nikki Carlson said the project would cost an estimated $20 million but requires no state or federal funding. Carlson said the project received a $5 million grant from Xcel Energy and has two donators, Bil Hawks and Tom Griffin, who have given $15 million for the project. Crown Hydro would give the MPRB $300,000 a year in compliance with a Minnesota statute. MPRB Commissioner Scott Vreeland said he thinks the bill is a bad idea. Vreeland said he voted against the project because it would diminish the beauty of St. Anthony Falls permanently. But fellow MPRB Commissioner Carol Kummer had different ideas about the project. âÄúMy initial knowledge of this was positive, and I never heard or saw anything in subsequent years that changed my mind,âÄù Kummer said. Kummer said the project saw opposition from residents on the river and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who worried about diminishing the beauty of the falls. Mondale sent a letter to the MPRB the day of the vote, Kummer said, which was âÄúfull of misinformationâÄù that it would destroy St. Anthony Falls. But Vreeland said they tried to determine the quality of the proposal and they brought in Attorney Mark Condon , who had no prior involvement in the case. Vreeland said Condon noted 16 reasons for the MPRB not to sign the contract, adding that any one of the reasons should be a deal-breaker. âÄúIf they donâÄôt negotiate with us, whoâÄôs making the decision about my land as a Minneapolis citizen?âÄù Vreeland said. Vreeland also said the bill is written specifically for this project and believes a possible reason for the Senate to pass the bill is to create jobs for Minnesotans. âÄúThey are working on the political pressure rather than public acceptance,âÄù Vreeland said. While the University of Minnesota does not officially endorse the Crown Hydro project, Associate Director for Applied Research at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory Jeff Marr said the University thinks hydroelectric power is a good thing. Marr said his lab has been contacted by the state to determine the hydroelectric potential of the falls. He said the site is accessible to the public and could offer the University another way to teach about hydroelectricity. âÄúIt could be a great place to teach about hydro power,âÄù Marr said.