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Correction: Xcel nuke overrun now $640 million

Check that 83 percent overrun at Xcel’s Monticello nuke plant. The new operative number is … 100 percent. Says Dave Shaffer in the Strib, “Xcel Energy Inc. on Wednesday lifted the secrecy about cost overruns at its Monticello nuclear power plant, revealing that recently completed upgrades are estimated to cost twice as much as originally budgeted. The Minneapolis-based electric and gas utility said in a regulatory filing that a five-year project to extend the life and increase output at the reactor, originally budgeted at $320 million, had climbed to nearly $640 million. The Star Tribune on Monday reported that the project had experienced significant cost overruns, and that the latest estimate had been classified by Xcel as a trade secret. … Xcel released the information through the PUC’s electronic docket system, and executives were not immediately available to comment on the figures.”

The AP follows a KSTP-TV story about glitches in the state’s accounting system overhaul. “A Minnesota government auditor voiced frustration Wednesday over kinks in an almost $70 million state accounting system overhaul that he says have led to delays and other problems in tracking taxpayer dollars. The agency responsible for the system insists past problems with the rollout are being adequately addressed. The dispute dates to last fall when the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget disclosed that implementation of the SWIFT accounting system had caused delays in producing essential government reports. It boiled over again this week when KSTP-TV reported that some entities linked to the new system continue to be cited for tardiness with federal audit reports.”

Well, the implosion will be kinda cool. Frederick Melo of the PiPress reports: “Efforts to preserve the massive but decrepit Island Station power plant on the Mississippi River failed Wednesday as a deadlocked St. Paul City Council voted 3-to-3 on an ordinance that would have designated it a local historic area. Without a majority vote, the local historic designation did not pass. That clears the way for Paul Breckner and the Breckner River Development group to market the 10.7 acres of land along Randolph Avenue without requiring a new owner to spend millions to fix up the property.”

It’s not all beer out there. Tom Webb of the PiPress says: “Minnesota's wine industry has nearly doubled in size since 2007, and a new study points to more growth ahead. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that half of the 101 vineyard owners surveyed have plans to expand in the next two years. Among the 34 Minnesota wineries surveyed, three-fourths have expansion plans in the next five years. Plus newcomers are joining the party all the time. ‘We are a $59 million industry (in Minnesota), between the grape growers and the wineries and the winery tourists,’ said U community researcher Brigid Tuck, who authored the study with economist William Gartner. ‘From being a place where you really couldn't grow grapes, this is a pretty dramatic shift.’ The growth was fueled by the rise of cold-tolerant grape varieties, more relaxed liquor laws and a new generation of winemakers.” The grapes ought to doing pretty well in this weather … .

We’re No. 1! Or the U of M is, anyway. Lydia Coutr, in the Strib, says: “The University of Minnesota is ranked among the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the nation for the second consecutive year. It earned the top rating from the Campus Pride Index, a measurement constructed by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit working to create more LGBT-friendly learning environments.” No comments from the Young Republicans?

Talk about never giving up … . John Welbes of the PiPress says: “Greg Jaunich has been down this road before. In 2007, Jaunich, of North Oaks, was indicted for over-charging a utility company and the state of Minnesota $500,000 for wind-generated electricity. But as that case played out, he was already raising money for another wind farm venture, dubbed the Averill Project, according to a new indictment filed this week. Those charges, filed in federal court in Minnesota, include five counts of mail fraud. All of the counts are related to letters Jaunich sent to investors in June 2008, in which he allegedly made false claims about the progress of the Averill Project which was planned for Clay County, Minn. Jaunich did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday.”

The Southwest LRT is getting a lot more expensive. At MPR, Curtis Gilbert writes, “the cost to build the light rail from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie will exceed earlier estimates by at least $120 million. Planners previously estimated the cost of the Southwest light rail transit line at $1.25 billion. The project's higher cost is because of the line's proximity to existing freight rail tracks. Relocating freight traffic to St. Louis Park would add up to $300 million to project's cost. Burying part of the light rail line could cost more than $400 million. The least-costly option would move a bike trail that currently runs along the freight line in Minneapolis.”

Because they don’t have Costco?  MPR’s Dan Gunderson says: “It costs more to eat in small towns. The North Dakota State University Extension Service has compiled an interesting comparison of food prices across the state. Consumers living in oil boom country, in western N.D.,  pay 3.3 percent more for groceries. But location seems to create more disparity than the oil boom economy. People living in communities with a population less than 10,000 pay on average 5.7 percent more for food than those living in larger communities, according to the NDSU survey. The same bag of groceries costs 21 percent less in national chain stores than it does in small supermarkets and local grocery stores.” Plus, they don’t get to save on a pressure-washer and a set of tires.

St. Paul … charter school … misuse … allegations … . Anthony Lonetree of the Strib reports: “The state Department of Education has ordered the authorizer of a St. Paul charter school to investigate allegations of repeated misuse of funds as well as retaliatory employment practices at the North End institution. The Community School of Excellence, 170 Rose Av. W., already had been forced previously to repay more than $200,000 in food and nutrition money, according to a July 15 letter from the department to the school’s authorizer, Concordia University, St. Paul. But allegations that the school has students ‘punch in for meals they do not consume’ have surfaced again, according to the letter … .” If there’s even one guy named Muhammed in here anywhere I know a columnist who’ll be descending like a turkey vulture on roadkill.

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Comments (11)

Cost overruns at Monticello

We were set up for this when the republican senate refused to confirm Ellen Anderson as chair of the Public Utilities Commission. The softening up of the PUC began some time ago.

Out of control spending

Hey wait a minute!

I thought only "Big Gub'mint" engaged in out of control spending!

After all, businesses are SO much more responsible with how they handle the planning of their spending . . . . .

Amen!

Xcel throws hundreds of millions of our dollars away but that doesn't matter to those focused only on demeaning government to strengthen the big corporations that are often responsible for the government waste that does occur. I'm glad to hear some liberatarians and the occasional Republican grumbling about crony-capitalism but more need to recognize the damage out-of-control corporations do to us all.

Excel's "uprate" at Monticello

A Penn State economist commented, “The ratepayers bear the risk despite the best efforts of the commission. The utility always has more resources, more money, more lawyers and more accountants. It is very hard for dedicated regulators to fight all of that.”

Compare this approach - $640 million in cost overruns while bamboozling the regulators with an army of obfuscators - to the proposed purchase of wind power by an Excel subsidiary, which Excel says will save its New Mexico ratepayers "$590 million in fuel costs over 20 years."

(http://www.awea.org/blog/index.cfm?customel_dataPageID_1699=23169)

Which approach would work best for Minnesotans ?

2/3 of a BILLION?

In looking at the cost of the repair/upgrade of the Monticello nuclear plant,

I can't help but think how much farther along we would be in creating the kinds of short-to-medium-term energy storage needed to allow us to completely convert our state's energy production to wind, solar, and hydropower,...

if we invested $640 million in research.

How many OTHER utilities across the country are spending similar amounts to keep their nuclear plants going? (and how many are letting them deteriorate in order to keep their short-term costs down while ignoring the huge costs of the inevitable "incidents" that will result)?

Then, of course, there's still the problem of VERY long term nuclear waste storage which we're not even close to solving.

I'm even curious as to whether the moderate-pressure flowing water wells found in areas scattered around the state might be tapped to produce electricity (since most people with such wells now simply let the continuously-flowing water drain away into local surface water systems.

I suspect it's long since time for ALL of us to stop listening to the VERY well-funded lies being promulgated by the outrageously profitable, but equally outrageously damaging to the planet dinosaur energy companies and start building a future where our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren will still be able to live on this planet a couple of centuries down the road.

People Soft and Pawlenty

As far as I know People Soft has very sketchy record of making big promises and coming up short on delivery. The latest $70 million fiasco comes as not surprise, this was yet another failed Pawlenty "technology" initiative that was supposed to produce big efficiency. Pawlenty was particularly enamoured with computer technology that was supposed to yield big savings and efficiencies. Someday someone should add up all the money wasted on new technology and software that failed to produce all the efficiencies Pawlenty bragged about. SWIFT is just the tip of the iceberg.

So true

And that is the tip of the iceberg of damage Pawlenty has caused this state. A pathetic governor.

Trade secret?

Against whom is Excel competing, other than its customers?

The source article quoted Excel that...

...it kept the latest overrun estimate secret so that vendors submitting their bills for work on the project wouldn’t know “how much contingency was built into the budget.” (http://www.startribune.com/business/215926831.html)

I guess Excel and its vendors have a bit of a trust issue. But since the estimation of the extent is an (ahem) *ongoing process*, even unveiling THIS estimate is not necessarily the last word.

So to answer your question, Excel claims it is in a struggle with its vendors in a poker game of no-peekee.

Rest assured: it has nothing to do with the implications for the rate-payers !! Excel would never stoop to deceiving the rate-payers the way it does its vendors !!

Small groceries and costs

I was working for a company that was developing a grocery store for a community and seeking public input. In this community public support was more important than profitability.

As part of the demonstration I bought the same market basket of goods (minus the meat but meat prices noted) from three suppliers: a local large grocery only, a 4500 square foot grocery locally owned, and a food co-op. These were all in the metro area so they did face competition. My market basket of goods when the meat was included from the independent in house butcher was cheaper at the 4,500 square foot independent. Without the meat the large chain was less expensive.

Profit margins on groceries are very small on the order of 4% the last time I looked at biz stats which was a while ago. I suspect that most big boxes run groceries as loss leaders.

Someone needs to develop an electronic ordering system to reduce wastage in the small stores. Coborns delivers for North Dakota?

Small Town ND

I used to live in Fargo where food prices were higher than living in Boston! (where I had moved from) Transportation was the major cost, not actual cost of product. What really threw me though was when I went with a co-worker to her family home in small town ND. Her mom sent us to the store - which was the gas station. The gas station owner drove over an hour to Bismark, bought food at the grocery store and then brought it home and wrote a higher price on top of the price sticker from the "city" grocery store! There was also no real selection. We were sent for Cool Whip, but that had already been sold. So had the can - yes - THE single can of whipped creme. We were able to pick up the third choice, a box of vanilla pudding. There was no brand choice at all and for most products in stock the gas station guy had only enough money to buy one of each ;)