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Committee hears update regarding goal of building a methane digester in county

WILLMAR -- A handshake and a signed memorandum of understanding could help secure federal funding for a methane digester to be built somewhere in Kandiyohi County and in China.

Methane digesters use fuels such as animal manure, municipal waste, food waste and agricultural byproducts to produce natural gas and electricity.

The process of using waste to create energy is being eyed as a positive way to reduce energy costs by using renewable energy.

The agri-business and renewable energy committee of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission heard an update Monday on its goal to find a viable construction plan and funding to build a community anaerobic digester somewhere in the county. Myron Behm, a member of the committee, participated in a recent trade delegation of Minnesotans who traveled to China.

There, discussions were held on ways Kandiyohi County and various Chinese entities, including the leading agricultural university there, could share research and development information about renewable energy.

The memorandum of understanding, signed by Behm and three Chinese individuals, sets the stage for sharing technology and information about commercializing renewable energy that would be beneficial to both communities.

Part of the offer includes an attempt to secure money from the United States government to help build methane digesters in both places.

The signed memorandum of understanding that promotes bilateral relationships and the exchange of information wasn't obtained only to promote international goodwill, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC.

China's technology on methane digesters is equal to, or more advanced, than the technology here, Behm said. That knowledge could be used to help build processing facilities in the United States.

Also, because international cooperation is highly valued in government and business, Renquist said the memorandum could give Kandiyohi County a leg up in securing federal funding to build a methane digester in Kandiyohi County and China.

"The name China carries excitement now," said Renquist, who intends to meet with Minnesota congressmen and senators to make a request for $30 million in federal funds to build one plant in Kandiyohi County and one in China.

He said Kandiyohi County has "no place in international diplomacy" unless it's able to "get something out of it."

Rehnquist said helping China get U.S. funding to build a methane digester could help Kandiyohi County get the funding it needs to build a digester. He said traveling to China and coming back with the memorandum was a way to show the U.S. government that Kandiyohi County is "serious" about building a methane digester.

Renquist said there are plans in the works to bring a Chinese delegation to Minnesota, including Kandiyohi County, this spring.

The committee also heard a presentation from BioSun, a Minneapolis company that is proposing to use existing technology to build its first methane digester here. This was the second time the committee has met with company officials to discuss options for fuel and to get answers to questions about the technology and potential output of natural gas and electricity.

Although no location has been selected, committee members are looking at the benefit of building a methane digester next to the Bushmills Ethanol plant, which could provide distillers grain as a fuel and obtain cheaper natural gas to operate the plant. The committee, which was involved in helping bring Bushmills Ethanol to Kandiyohi County, discussed ways to bring Bushmills into the discussion.

Stephen Manders, from BioSun, said the maximum cost of building and starting up a methane digester would be $23 million. He said they have a bank that would be willing to provide 50 percent of the financing. If the plant is built, he said Bio Sun would retain partial ownership in order to ensure proper operation and to protect their trade secrets.

In other action the committee:

- Discussed meeting with townships to discuss the county's livestock-supportive policy and the need to make future planning and zoning recommendations to protect intensive agriculture operations by providing up-front information to residents to prevent uninformed opposition to proposed projects.

- Discussed the theme for the annual livestock conference the committee will host with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture this winter in Willmar.

- Reviewed its $80,000 budget, which was a $50,000 increase from 2005; and approved a set of goals, objectives and strategies for 2006.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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