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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Energy Investors Summary: Big Stone II Dead

A review of the literature suggests that the only people saying that the Big Stone II coal-fired power plant can survive the departure of leading developer Otter Tail are the remaining investors in Otter Tail who are begging other investors to fill the gap.
  • "Otter Tail was the lead utility in the much-troubled effort to build a $1.6 billion coal-fired plant in South Dakota. The Fergus Falls, Minn.-based company’s withdrawal means the remaining four partners would have to find a replacement to fill Otter Tail’s $400 million gap. Given the condition of the economy and the uncertainty in the energy sector, the project is a hard sell to investors" ["Otter Tail Declines the ‘Risk’ in Power Plant," Fargo-Moorhead In-Forum, 2009.09.18].
  • On Sept. 11, the lead developer, Otter Tail Power Co., dropped out of the consortium. That should kill the plant.... For Minnesota, this decision should be an economic boon. Without Big Stone II, the wind farms of southwest Minnesota will be even more in demand and will likely expand. That will mean more jobs and economic activity in the state, rather than the few jobs that would have been added (in South Dakota) by building the coal-fired plant. It will also mean more jobs and economic activity in Minnesota's energy-efficiency industry [Pual Aasen and Michael Noble, "Do We Need Coal for Power? No," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 2009.09.16].
  • The clean-coal project was originally slated to be up and running by 2011, but capitalization efforts and lawsuits have now put the start to late 2015, if at all, with Otter Tail's withdrawal ["Do We Need Coal for Power? Yes," Bemidji Pioneer editorial, reprinted in Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 2009.09.17].
  • The withdrawal of Otter Tail Power will likely be the death of the $1.6 billion project, and that’s a good thing, said Chuck Laszewski, communications director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which has long opposed Big Stone II. “This is a major victory for not only the environment, but also the economy of Minnesota,” he said [Nathan Bowe, "Big Stone II Power Plant Project Could Be Dead after Otter Tail Power Company Pulls Out," Detroit Lakes DL-Online, 2009.09.16].
  • My favorite mini-conglomerate just swam into murky waters. Otter Tail (Nasdaq: OTTR) subsidiary Otter Tail Power no longer wants any part of the Big Stone II coal-fired power plant, throwing years of planning to the wind.... Otter Tail's retreat throws the very future of that power plant into question. Demand for baseline power is still there, but the other utilities involved now need to find some other way to fill that void [Anders Bylund, "Otter Tail Swims Away from Big Stone," The Motley Fool, 2009.09.15].
Notably absent from any of the press coverage: an independent assessment from anyone who doesn't have skin in the game (e.g., not Dan Sharp, Tom Heller, or Russell Olson) explaining why potential investors should reject the economic and political logic that led Otter Tail to bail.

By the way, since announcing its withdrawal from Big Stone II on September 11, Otter Tail's stock has risen just about 4%.

I note also that Nathan Bowe's Detroit Lakes article is one of the few balanced pieces of journalism I've seen on the piece. Where KELO has gotten quotes from no one but boosters of the Big Stone boondoggle, Bowe balances the public relations efforts of Big Stone II communications manager Dan Sharp with the public relations efforts of environmentalist opponents. Nice work, Nathan!

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