To the editor:
In 2006, due to an increase in natural gas prices, the City of New Ulm and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) made the decision to burn coal in Boiler #4. This plan involved contracting with Sargent and Lundy (energy consulting group), filing the necessary permits with governmental agencies and eventually making extensive, costly modification to enable the burning of coal in Boiler #4.
At the July 26, 2011 PUC Meeting, a Sargent & Lundy economist reported there is no longer a financial advantage to burning coal. The economist did however encouraged the City to invest, at least, another $26,220 to move forward with the permitting process, in the event the financial forecast changes dramatically. New Ulm Citizens for Clean Energy opposes spending any more money for the following reasons:
Not a prudent use of resources: According to Sargent & Lundy's Report, coal is not the most cost-effective energy source for meeting the electrical needs of New Ulm residents. The report projects, over the next several years, the price of coal will increase in relationship to the price of natural gas. We understand that the City and PUC have already dedicated considerable time and financial resources in planning for the conversion to coal. Yet spending additional tax payer dollars on this project is not a wise use of those resources.
$26,220 is only an estimate: At the July 26 PUC meeting, it was estimated to finish the modeling and air permit process would cost a minimum of $26,220. This assumes that the process will not run into additional problems, which seems like a big assumption given the history of this project. It also assumes no further challenges to the air permit process, which would cost additional time and resources.
Timeline does not make sense: As pointed out by commissioners at the July PUC Meeting, if the commission does approve continuing the permit process, the PUC only has approximately18 months to break ground from the time the air permit is issued. It is very unlikely the economics will change drastically during this short period of time. Even if energy prices change drastically in the next two years, we cannot assume prices will stabilize over the long-term. Now is not the time to invest millions of dollars (to convert Boiler #4) in such a volatile energy market.
Voting no does not close the door: In the unlikely event the economics were to change drastically, the PUC could still move forward on this project. They have much of the preparation work completed and there is no restriction on reapplying for the air permit.
Environmental Impact: It's clear that the conversion to coal would mean more air and water pollution for New Ulm and Minnesota. Now that the coal is no longer the most economic option, there is no compelling reason to move forward with this project.
Clearly coal is no longer a viable energy choice. It's time to more fully examine cleaner, more sustainable energy options. Consider attending the Aug. 23 PUC Meeting at the City Building.
John and Mary Lieske
Members, New Ulm Citizens for Clean Energy