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Steam project moves forward

Construction of RPU-Mayo system could begin in 2004

CORRECTION RAN THURSDAY (6/26/03)

Due to an editing error, the meaning of the first sentence of a story under the headline "Steam project moves forward," on Page 1A Wednesday was incorrect. The sentence should have read, "A decision on the Rochester Public Utilities-Mayo Clinic steam partnership apparently has satisfied people both for and against the project." Also, Paula Maccabee's name was misspelled.

---------------------------------------------------------- By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

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A decision on the Rochester Public Utilities-Mayo Clinic steam partnership apparently has polarized people.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the project, but also imposed stipulations requiring RPU to study ways to keep Silver Lake Power Plant emissions at current levels despite increasing coal-burning by as much as 55 percent.

RPU must report its study results at the Citizens Board meeting Nov. 25. It is not required to adopt any particular controls.

The board action requires RPU "to come back with specifics," said Citizens Board member Dr. Daniel Foley. "They need to maintain those emission rates."

RPU's proposal, to extend steam lines one mile from the Silver Lake plant to the north side of Mayo's downtown campus, has come under fire from a group of Rochester citizens concerned about the negative effects of coal-burning on health and the environment.

On Tuesday, members of the Rochester Energy Future Coalition and other state and national environmental groups tried to convince the Citizens Board to reject, or at least delay, the project on the grounds that the Silver Lake plant lacks environmental controls to accommodate an increase in coal-burning without a similar increase in pollution.

Airborne pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, contribute to higher rates of asthma and asthma attacks and shorten lifespans, project opponents said.

"From an environmental point of view, making the decision to increase coal-burning at this plant is an unusually bad choice," said Paula Maccavee, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club.

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Jack Jibben, vice chairman for project coordination and campus planning at Mayo Clinic -- and also an RPU board member -- said recent expansions in the downtown area have increased demand for electrical power and heat. The proposal by RPU is the best and most practical way to supply it, Jibben said.

"We need 61⁄2; megawatts of electricity, and that's going to come from coal," whether that coal is burned at the Rochester plant or elsewhere on the electrical grid, Jibben said.

Mayo will recycle steam from its electrical generator and use it to heat buildings, eliminating the need for separate boilers that consume an estimated 9.5 million gallons of fuel oil per year, Jibben said.

After the Citizens Board vote, Jibben, speaking as a representative of Mayo Clinic, said he was pleased with the outcome.

Jibben was the only member of the RPU board to attend the hearing, but declined to speak as a representative of RPU. Mayo spokesman John Murphy said it is confusing to the public for Jibben to speak for two organizations at once.

RPU General Manager Larry Koshire said he, too, was pleased.

"We can now take the project to the next phase," -- construction -- he said. The steam line will not be built until 2004 at the earliest, he said, though some work inside the Silver Lake plant could begin before then.

Norm Erickson, of the Rochester Energy Future Coalition, described the Citizens Board decision as "a fundamental improvement" over RPU's initial proposal.

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A number of other members of the Rochester group also left smiling, but not everyone was happy. Beth Goodpaster, energy program director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), said her group might challenge the Citizens Board decision. She had argued the newest generator at the Silver Lake plant, Unit 4, is subject to new emissions controls under the terms of a federal law rewritten earlier this year.

Because RPU's plan didn't call for those controls, Goodpaster argued, it should have been rejected.

MCEA -- and any other group wishing to appeal the decision -- has 30 days to file a challenge with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Appeals Board.

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