Last hurdles to the purchase, shutdown of Benson Power closer to being cleared

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Last Friday Benson was scheduled to get its first $4 million payment from the settlement with Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Legislature that will lead to the closing of Benson Power, LLC, later this summer.

The payment is to be followed by $6 million payments in 2019 and 2020, with a final $3 million payment coming in 2021, bringing the total to $20 million.

However, City Manager Rob Wolfington told the Benson council Monday night that there are two hurdles still to clear before the payments can start.

First, the North Dakota Public Utilities Commission has to give its approval of the purchase and closure of the 55-megawatt biomass power plant in Benson.

A work session of the North Dakota PUC was set for June 11, at which time it was going to determine whether or not it would conduct a public hearing to listen to appeals by workers at Laurentian Energy Authority (LEA) and suppliers working with Benson Power.

LEA, serving the cities of Virginia and Hibbing, has used woodchips for power generation. It, too, was freed of the biomass mandate by the 2017 Legislature and plans to convert its generation to natural gas. The legislation also freed the power plants from power purchase agreements that required they buy the biomass energy.

A majority of the 10 points of contention raised by LEA workers and Benson Power suppliers have already been dismissed by the North Dakota PUC, Wolfington said. All those raised by Benson Power suppliers were denied, but two concerns remain to be dealt with that were raised by LEA workers. Because action on LEA and Benson Power issues are tied into one docket before the North Dakota PUC, resolution of the issues raised for both must be reached.

If the LEA worker issues are denied, and no hearing set, a ruling could be approved by June 13. If additional time is needed, it would be June 29 when the North Dakota PUC next meets to act on the Xcel Energy request, he said....


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