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Pay kids to learn

It's about time someone acknowledged that school is every bit the full-time source of stress and anxiety as a job, and gave a little back to the people who have no choice about having to be there. Is it a slave's wage? Yes. It's a pittance. [MPR News: South Dakota tests program that'll pay kids to learn]

When we realize that school in its current form is a cross between glorified babysitting and grand-scale indoctrination and start duly compensating all of the poor people who have to suffer through it every day, it will be a small, sputtering, drunken-shambling step in the right direction.

Harry Smith
Teaneck, N.J.

Consider the real numbers on coal gasification power plant

The "government financing" for up to 80% of the costs presumably refers to the U.S. Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. [MPR News: Coal gasification financing still elusive, despite help from carbon concerns]

Excelsior was invited to be one of 16 project sponsors to submit a full application, which "will undergo disciplined and rigorous reviews." There likely will not be enough money to fund all of these projects; their applications will be scored and ranked by criteria set out in new regulations that were announced last fall.

I wrote an analysis of these regulations at that time. (You can find it on Citizens Against the Mesaba Project's Web site at the 10/8/07 update.) Some of the main problems facing Excelsior are: no power purchase agreement (PPA); a risk premium for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) projects; serious problems with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the permits; a preference for projects that rely on a smaller guarantee percentage (so forget the 80%); insufficient cash contributed by Excelsior's Principals (Micheletti and Jorgensen); lack of experience; and the level of risk.

The project's total cost was stated as $2.156 billion by the DOE in May 2006. Excelsior admits that its new plan for Zero Liquid Discharge will add $20 million in capital costs. It is common knowledge that the construction costs have increased dramatically over recent years but Excelsior will not state what the current estimated cost is. By calculating the cost at $2 billion and assuming that Excelsior will get guarantees of 80%, media coverage seriously underestimates the amount of money needed from investors who are willing to take the risk. If the chances of getting this project financed are "very low" (Bob Sherman) when the need is $400 million, they are even lower when the real numbers are considered.

In mid-February Excelsior requested that the PPA docket (#05-1993) at the PUC be delayed indefinitely. That likely reflects Excelsior's level of confidence in getting its PPA approved.

Charlotte Neigh
Trout Lake Township, Minn.

[Neigh is Co-Chair of Citizens Against the Mesaba Project]

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