PUC issues order approving Benson Power closing

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Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission’s issued an order Jan. 23 approving Xcel Energy’s purchase of Benson Power, LLC, ending the power purchase agreement that required it to buy the plant’s electricity through 2028, and shutting it down.

A 20-day process is now underway in which those opposed to the PUC’s decision ask it to reconsider its decision. If a request for reconsideration is filed, the PUC has 60 days to review the request and make a final decision.

“It affirmed exactly what the Legislature intended,” Benson City Manager Robert Wolfington said Monday of the PUC’s order. “Part of their intent was that their action be scrutinized by the PUC. The PUC scrutinized it, and they affirmed the Legislature’s intent.”

At a Nov. 30 hearing on Xcel’s petition to shut down the biomass power plant that burns turkey litter and woodchips, the PUC’s board voted 5-0 to allow the process to proceed. The issuance of the order was the next step needed to proceed with eventually shutting down the plant by late summer.

The order states: “The Commission hereby approves Xcel’s proposal to terminate the PPA with Benson Power, LLC, acquire the plant, and close the facility.”  It further says, “The Commission finds that the transaction to temporarily acquire the Benson facility is consistent with the public interest and otherwise meets the requirements of…” state statute.

Since the biomass mandate was approved by the Legislature back in the 1990s other forms of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, have become vastly cheaper to produce. Both are now growing sources of power for Xcel.
Xcel’s financial incentives to request termination of the power purchase agreement on behalf of its customers were substantial.

In Benson’s case, it expects to save a net $345 million over the next 11 years for its ratepayers. That savings comes after it pays $106 million to buy the plant from its East Coast insurance company owners, pay the City of Benson area community more than $22 million, and pay millions to demolish the plant returning the site to a bare lot....


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