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PUC weighs solar vs. natural-gas proposals

The issue before the PUC is the relative cost of natural gas versus solar for electricity generation.

The glut of natural gas, and the lower prices afforded therein, have thrown a monkey wrench into Geronimo’s plans to build 100 solar arrays around the state that will generate 100 megawatts of electricity. Kirsti Marohn of the St. Cloud Daily Times writes that the state Public Utilities Commission is hearing oral arguments Tuesday to determine if a proper decision was made by an administrative law judge in favor of the solar plants. Opponents include utility companies like Xcel Energy and the state Department of Commerce. Xcel and other energy companies say solar can’t hold a candle to the cheap cost of gas, while the Commerce Department supports solar energy but says Geronimo’s proposal should compete against other solar projects in a separate bidding process. For her part, Betsy Engelking, vice president of Edina-based Geronimo, remains adamant that her company’s proposal is superior and should be the PUC’s choice. The Geronimo solar project was one of five proposals Xcel Energy submitted to state regulators as part of a competitive bidding process to meet future electricity needs.

Speaking of natural gas, Jeff Kiger at the Rochester Post-Bulletin writes that “Mike Wees and Joel Moffitt of Rochester Shuttle Services have added three new vans to their fleet. The new vans run on compressed natural gas, which burns more efficiently than gasoline and costs less. … Wees and Moffitt did a one-year test run of a 2013 van, and it went very well. So, they decided to invest in more of the vehicles, which use the much cleaner and more inexpensive fuel over traditional gasoline. Rochester Shuttle now has four CNG vans in its seven vehicle fleet. … Kwik Trip’s 2012 opening of a Rochester station that offers CNG as well as the recent addition of a CNG station in Eagan, Minn., allows Rochester Shuttle to make 14 daily trips to the Twin Cities airport. … Wees and Moffitt opened Rochester Shuttle in 2010. The firm now has 26 employees on staff and is looking to hire more.”

Southern Minnesota tongues are wagging over the possible purchase of Ragu by hometown favorites Hormel. The Post-Bulletin reports that Austin-based Hormel Food Co. has a hankering for Unilever’s Ragu, according to reports from Bloomberg and other news services. “Other contenders to buy the pasta sauce include J.M. Smucker Co. Pinnacle Foods Inc., Hillshire Brands Co., Post Holdings Inc. and Japanese grocery supplier Mizkan Co., the story said, citing anonymous sources.” Ragu may fetch as much as $2 billion, are due at the end of this week. Under Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman, Unilever has focused on its health and beauty business while selling food brands. Ragu accounts for about 40 percent of Unilever’s $1.2 billion pasta-sauce sales. … Ragu is the best-selling sauce in the U.S., with 27 percent of the market, according to Euromonitor. Campbell Soup Co.’s Prego brand is second with 18 percent.

This might not rival the vista of the tall ships into port, but Andrew Krueger of the Duluth News Tribune was there to record the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers Mackinaw, Morro Bay and Katmai Bay into the Twin Ports. “The three vessels have been cutting a shipping lane across Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie in recent days, and came to Duluth to restock and refuel. After leaving Duluth — perhaps Tuesday, maybe Wednesday — they’ll head to Two Harbors, from where they’ll escort at least two lakers — the Cason J. Callaway and the Presque Isle — back across the lake to the Soo Locks. The John G. Munson may also join the group.”

In what he is calling the latest in a series of thefts and vandalism in downtown Bemidji, Matt Cory of the Bemidji Pjoneer writes about the disappearance of Buck, the deer statue that sits outside Bemidji Woolen Mills. Bill Batchelder, owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills, “is offering a $500 reward for the return of the statue, which he said is valued at about $10,000. Batchelder said the nearly life-size buck statue, made for the Bemidji Sculpture Walk by longtime veterinarian Dr. James Busby, was in its place Thursday afternoon. He said he remembers the time because he was meeting with some visiting business people and the buck is always a point of conversation. … This was not a simple topple-and-grab job, he said. Busby was bolted to the pedestal and the thieves took the time to remove them. ‘This wasn’t just somebody hitting it to break it loose, this thing is actually bolted down,’ he said. ‘Someone had to think about this, it’s deliberate.’ “

And then there’s this tidbit from the Austin Daily Herald, which just writes itself: “One Austin man turned a war of words on Facebook into assault charges after he was arrested for beating up a 21-year-old and stealing his shoes Thursday. Police Chief Brian Krueger said officers were called to the area near 10th Place and 21st Street Northeast at about 6:42 p.m. Thursday after a report of a fight. Witnesses told police the 26-year-old suspect closely followed the victim in his car, passed him on the road and stopped abruptly, forcing the victim to stop his vehicle as well. The suspect allegedly got out of his car and approached the victim’s car, yelling for the victim to come out and fight him. Witnesses said the suspect also allegedly punched the victim’s car windows several times as well, according to Krueger. The victim got out of his car, only to get punched and knocked to the ground, according to a police report. The suspect then allegedly kicked the victim in the head several times, stole his shoes and drove off. … Krueger said police found the suspect soon after the incident and arrested him. The suspect and victim knew and had threatened each other on Facebook, according to the report. The suspect is in Mower County jail on assault, burglary, theft and careless driving charges.”

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