City leaders fight to protect Benson Power’s future

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Xcel Energy seeks to undo state’s biomass mandate

The City of Benson has been pitted in a David versus Goliath showdown at the Minnesota Legislature this week as it works to prevent Xcel Energy from pushing through a bill that could potentially lead to Benson Power, LLC, closing down.

If the proposed legislation passes, it would undo the state’s biomass mandate that is at the heart of the financing agreement that allowed the poultry-fired power plant to be built.

It would allow Excel Energy to renegotiate the rate it pays for power from Benson Power, and if it couldn’t, to offer to buyout the power purchase agreement. A buyout could lead to Xcel closing down the plant city officials fear.

Benson Power, LLC, employs 45 at its plant and is served by another 50 to 60 who drive trucks that supply the plant with turkey litter and wood chips and provide other services to the plant. Ash from the plant is used by the adjacent North American Fertilizer plant to make its fertilizer products.

Benson officials knew nothing about the bill until they caught wind of it late last week. Since then they have been scrambling to catch up.

It appears that Xcel Energy had attached its efforts to a bill being proposed by Laurentian Energy Authority serving Hibbing and Virginia in northern Minnesota. It is seeking to get out of the biomass mandate for its wood-burning power plant as it seeks a cheaper source of fuel.

Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington was at the state Capitol Monday to testify against the bill as it is currently written. Wolfington and the city sought the help of its state Rep. Tim Miller, District 17A-Prinsburg, and state Sen. Andrew Lang, District 17-Olivia, to stop the bill from including Benson Power. However, Wolfington said, Xcel was fighting against the city at every turn.

Miller has introduced an amendment to the bill that would delay a decision on renegotiating rates or a buyout until July 1, 2019. When the Monitor-News talked with Lang Monday afternoon he was searching for a senator serving on the Senate Finance Committee to introduce the amendment.

The city also retained the help of St. Paul lobbying firm Flaherty & Hood, P.A.

Wolfington said Monday night that it appeared the testimony, lobbying efforts, work of Miller and Lang, had caused the state Senate to pull language from the bill that referred to biomass mandate. A separate bill including only removing Laurentian Energy from the biomass requirement may be drafted.

Late Monday night, Wolfington reported Tuesday morning, all language on the biomass mandate in the Senate omnibus bill was stripped out. But he added that he expected the House amendment could be added to the Senate bill....


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