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Correction: Xcel nuke overrun now $640 million

Glitches found in the state’s accounting-system overhaul; efforts to save the Island Station power plant on the Mississippi River fail; Minnesota’s wine industry nearly doubles; and more.

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 … .

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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.