Possible option for Benson Power repurposing being explored by city

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While it has been assumed that once Benson Power, LLC, shuts down in the coming months that it would then be prepared for demolition. Now there an alternate possibility for the site in the preliminary discussion stages.

The plan does not involve continuing to generate electricity. It also does not end the plans to deconstruct the generating capacity facilities and equipment at Benson Power.

What Brightmark Energy (BME) is considering is repurposing part of the facility for an anaerobic biomass gas producing operation, the Benson Economic Development Authority (EDA) was told at its meeting Monday morning.

BME is a San Francisco-based energy company that “develops, owns and operates energy projects.” Its president and CEO, Bob Powell, is a former chief financial officer of Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest electric utility business. He has over 25 years of experience in the energy field.

Powell met with City Manager Rob Wolfington and representatives of Xcel Energy earlier this month in Minneapolis to discuss options for BME acquiring Benson Power. He also met with representatives of the City of Benson later to give them an overview of his proposal.

Earlier discussions between Xcel Energy and BME were not possible as Xcel worked with the Minnesota Legislature, City of Benson, and Benson Power’s East Coast owners on legislation that would lead to the plant’s closing and purchase by Xcel. With the 2017 Legislature’s passing legislation ending the state’s biomass mandate, Xcel was no longer obligated to buy Benson Power’s electricity. That set the stage for closing the Xcel’s purchase of the power plant, shutting it down, and putting in place plans for its demolition.

During the legislative discussions and Xcel’s completing the facility’s purchase, it didn’t want to talk with BME or allow its people to tour the Benson Power plant. With both hurdles now cleared, BME has been able to see the plant and meet with Xcel executives.

It is also looking at a $175,000 feasibility study with engineering firm Burns & McDonnell of Minneapolis. Several months ago, it proposed that the city pay $125,000 of that cost to show its good faith in working with the company on the purchase and retrofitting of the Benson Power facility, Wolfington told the EDA. A more realistic figure for the city’s appetite would be around $35,000 he said. BME wants to see the city with some “skin in the game” if it is going to invest substantially in pursuing its plans, he said.

Two keys to its operation as an anaerobic gas generating facility are its proximity to a nearby Alliance Pipeline natural gas pipeline and the availability of enough biomass to supply its anaerobic digesters. That biomass can include animal and poultry manure, sugar beet waste, and other products. The gas produced would be fed into the natural gas pipeline.

If it is constructed, the biomass gas facility could employ 25 to 30 people, Wolfington said. He said it is estimated the anaerobic digester operation could mean an investment of $100 million by BME....


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