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Benson supports power plant closing, says biomass never fulfilled promise

BENSON — The city of Benson has offered its voice in support of closing the Benson Power biomass plant operating in the community.

The city filed a statement Wednesday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in support of the plant's closing. Its closing will mean the loss of 45 jobs at the plant.

The city's statement was made in response to action by suppliers to the 50-megawatt power plant. They have appealed a decision by the Public Utilities Commission allowing Xcel Energy to acquire and close the plant this year.

The suppliers have filed statements supporting their appeal. They cite over $28.1 million in annual sales they will lose, as well as lost investments in equipment worth millions of dollars. The most negatively affected are the truckers hauling turkey litter and wood pulp to the plant, as well as the turkey growers and loggers providing the biomass fuel.

The city of Benson will face the most immediate, adverse economic impact of the plant's closing due to the loss of its workforce, according to a recent analysis by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic.

In the letter supporting the closure of the plant, Benson Mayor Terri Collins takes note of the importance of those jobs and how the community initially opposed the plant's closing due to their loss.

But the mayor points out that the operation previously had gone into receivership and bankruptcy and the economic challenges of running the business are known.

The mayor stated that " ... biomass never fulfilled its early promise as an alternative energy form as other cleaner sources of energy have become more widely available at a lower price and as the facility ran into operational and logistical challenges.''

Benson worked with Xcel Energy and through negotiations with the Legislature, the city has been awarded $20 million for economic development. The mayor expressed her concern about potentially losing those funds.

"Failing to provide those means could have a devastating effect on the city's economy and would go against the long-term public interest of the community,'' Collins stated.

The PUC decision is being challenged on a number of factors, including whether or not it failed to consider "the public interest'' in its approval allowing the plant's closure.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce also filed a statement on Wednesday supporting the PUC decision and opposing the appeal by suppliers. Thursday was the deadline to file statements in the appeals process.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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