Monday, August 21, 2006

Gil, How is DM&E going to help me & 2.3 million others in the region ?

I understand that the two biggest reasons for the DM&E loan are (1) coal needs to be moved from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming; and (2) lower costs for farmers in moving product.

But I do not understand how that will help us in Minnesota.
Isn't the largest coal fired plant – which is planning an expansion – in Milbank South Dakota with the power distributed through Otter Tail Power in Fergus Falls? That area is served by Burlington Northern. My electricity comes through BENCO which is part of Great River Energy who uses Big Stone. The Big Stone II expansion will provide transmission power from 230 kV to 345 kV and will meet the increasing energy needs of their 2.3 million customers in Minnesota and the Dakotas. The participating companies besides Great River are Otter Tail Power, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power, Heartland Consumers Power and more.
I have had it confirmed by a second source that DM&E will not be running track to Big Stone, so if there are any cost savings to be had in transporting coal from Wyoming, we will not be affected.

A Washington-based lobbyist informed me that there is no assurance that DM&E will be able to provide any lower rates than BN since DM&E could operate a captive line … and the best hopes for rate reductions are with the Surface Transportation Board. So why should farmers feel that there will be any rate reductions ?

My concern has always been the fiscal implications. Why are the taxpayers being used for a program that will largely benefit one company ? U.S. railroads are slated to invest a record $8 billion in capital expenditures this year. How will BN, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, etc respond when the government sets up a program that benefits one competitor – how quickly will they be coming to the Congressional trough for their own share ? A slippery slope that should be avoided. The major problem is how this was enacted. As an earmark in the TransPORKtation bill, this specific funding was not adequately debated. I believe that if this was voted on a stand-alone up-and-down vote, it would fail. Tax policy is written too often with special interests in minds … if there is need for an overall improvement to modernize railroads, why not a federal tax credit on investments that expand railroad capacity for all railroads ? Financially secure companies will invest and reap the return as a tax credit versus the taxpayers up-fronting a loan.

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