Iron Range coal plant bad for environment and state budget

State and national legislators are considering the financing and construction of a massive coal-gasification plant near Hoyt Lakes on the Iron Range. This power plant has been conceived as an answer to Minnesota’s future energy needs and a possible solution to a difficult economic situation for Iron Range communities. However, this proposal is fraught with problems, and the plant would not be a good investment for the state. There are political and economic questions related to the process and costs of creating the project, as well as serious and significant environmental impacts resulting from its operation.

This coal-gasification plant would be one of the largest power plants in Minnesota, capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of energy. This would all come with a very high price tag. The facility is estimated to cost about $1 billion, of which $10 million will come from Minnesota taxpayers and $800 million in federal loan guarantees. All the money would be directed through Excelsior Energy, a company of five employees with no track record in building power plants. The allotment of the project to Excelsior has raised eyebrows among environmental and interest group watchdogs who have accused Excelsior of curtailing normal legislative processes.

The coal-gasification plant is not only politically and economically problematic, but it is also a move away from Minnesota’s commitment to producing clean and renewable energy. Coal-gasification might be a cleaner method of generating electricity than traditional coal power plants, but gasification does nothing to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions. This is important because carbon dioxide emissions are thought to be a major source of global warming gases, of which an ever-growing body of scientists is attributing to serious environmental problems.

Citizens and policy-makers are beginning to realize that our dependence on fossil fuels has a tremendous impact on not only our local environment but the world. By building an enormous coal power plant (that does nothing to stem carbon dioxide emissions) to meet our future energy needs, we are seriously damaging our ability to create viable, clean and renewable energy that does not jeopardize our planet’s future health.

The economically depressed communities on the Iron Range are in need of the large investment the coal-gasification plant would bring. But that investment could just as well come in the form of a truly clean and renewable energy, which would benefit the area’s economy and environment.

This issue should not be made into a question of whether the Iron Range is able revitalize its economy, but rather how Minnesota will responsibly pursue its energy future while taking care of its communities.

Ilkka Monson is a University student and a member of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group’s energy task force. Send comments to [email protected]