The technology works, but public policy will dictate its future.
Michael T. Burr is Public Utility Fortnightly's editor-at-large, and a consultant and writer based in Minnesota.
A distant train whistle breaks the silence of a mid-winter evening on Minnesota's Iron Range. The melancholy sound echoes across the expanse of a frozen lake that now fills a long-disused LTV Steel pit near the town of Hoyt Lakes.
In years past, that train carried iron ore from mines like this one to ports on Lake Superior, where ships took the ore and carried it to blast furnaces in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. But that was before the U.S. steel industry went into decline, taking the iron-mining business along with it.
In the past decade, Minnesota's Iron Range has lost thousands of well-paying mining jobs. Hoyt Lakes alone has lost more than 1,000 jobs since 2001, and the employment lines are longer there than elsewhere in Minnesota. For this reason, local residents are welcoming plans to build an integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) power plant-possibly on the site of an abandoned taconite mine-and state and federa, and state and federal politicians on both sides of the aisle are lining up to support it as well.
The Mesaba Energy Project, being developed by Minnetonka-based Excelsior Energy, would employ more than 1,000 workers during its three-year construction phase, and create about 150 operations and maintenance (O&M) jobs for the life of the facility.