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NASA scientist asking Pawlenty to stop Big Stone II power plant project

WILLMAR -- Dr. James Hansen has penned letters to everyone from the Prime Ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom to Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, asking all of them to halt the development of coal-fired power plants.

Hansen's latest letter arrived on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk this week. He's asking the Minnesota governor to speak out against the Big Stone II project in Big Stone City, S.D.

"I would hope that he would receive this as a positive suggestion,'' Hansen told Minnesota reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

The state of South Dakota has issued the permits needed for construction of the plant, but Minnesota regulators will decide whether or not to allow the construction of power lines needed for the project.

Hansen is hopeful of finding an ally in Pawlenty. He said the governor has "his heart in the right place'' for his advocacy on behalf of renewable energy development.

Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, has become known for his role in calling attention to global warming. Hansen said he was speaking as a private citizen in voicing his concerns about global warming and sending the letter to Pawlenty.

The scientist warns that we have only begun to feel the effects of global warming.

In his letter to Pawlenty, Hansen said he is speaking as "a parent and former neighbor" in trying to convey the urgency of halting greenhouse gas emissions. "As our mutual friend Will Steger has surely discussed with you, the Earth is nearing climate 'tipping points' with potentially irreversible effects, including extermination of countless species, ice sheet disintegration and sea level rise, and mass dislocation of populations.'' he states.

Five utilities led by Otter Tail Power are proposing the $1.6 billion coal-fired plant. The 500- to 580-megawatt plant would be built alongside the existing 450-megawatt plant on Big Stone Lake. Published accounts indicate that 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide is emitted when coal is used to produce 500 megawatts of electricity.

Proponents of the Big Stone II project point out that increased efficiencies will allow it produce 20 percent less carbon dioxide for the energy produced when compared to other, older-technology plants.

But Hansen said the efficiency or rate of emission is not what matters. Once the coal is burned and the carbon dioxide released, it stays in the environment for 1,000 years.

Hansen said he would like to "terminate'' all new coal plant development, unless there are proven means to sequester the carbon dioxide the plants produce.

The NASA scientist said he would also like to see governments impose a cap and trade system on carbon dioxide.

He warns investors in Big Stone II that as the effects of global warming become more pronounced, people will demand greater action. He predicts that in the not-too-distant future, we will be dismantling coal-fired plants or retrofitting them with expensive technology to capture the carbon dioxide.

He said investors who believe that erecting coal plants now will somehow "grandfather'' them in the future are "mistaken."