BENSON — The country’s first power plant fueled by turkey manure and wood chips was demolished Wednesday morning in Benson.
Built in 2007 as an alternative to land-spreading turkey litter — and as a new type of renewable energy that helped Xcel Energy meet a legislative mandate for purchasing green energy in exchange for storing radioactive waste — the massive power plant that had been praised in the past and toured by politicians was loaded with explosives and left in a heap.
There were a few loud booms and seconds later the 15-story boiler house crumpled over on its side and the 30-story smokestack fell like a tree and crashed to the ground.
The implosion drew a small crowd of spectators who grabbed good viewing locations before law enforcement closed off roads to the site, located on the edge of Benson.
A 10-story dryer building at the Benson Power plant, which was originally built and operated as Fibrominn, was brought down with explosives Saturday morning.
Ray Zukowski, of Control Demolition from Phoenix, Maryland, said the demolition process started two months ago as the bottom 30 feet of the boiler house was cleaned out and the upper levels were cut with torches to make room for the explosives.
“It’s a very long, drawn-out process to get the structure ready,” said Zukowski, who gave the orders to “fire” before his co-worker pushed the button on the “blasting machine to set off two electric caps.”
There were 166 linear-shaped charges — varying in length from 12 inches to 54 inches — placed in the boiler room and seven charges in the smokestack.
“You’re going to hear four sets of bangs. Nothing’s going to happen,” Zukowski said, while explaining what was about to happen. “Then you’re going to hear four really loud bangs and that’s when the charges go off.”
Zukowski said his crew would leave Benson shortly after the implosion and complete 14 other jobs in five states before the end of the month.
“We knock them down, they have to clean them up,” he said.
Randy Fordyce, from Xcel Energy, said steel beams and concrete from the demolished structures are being recycled.
The demolition came about after Xcel Energy purchased the plant in 2017 with plans to raze it and purchase less expensive types of renewable energy. The arrangement included payments to the city of Benson to assist with economic development for the site.
Rob Wolfington, Benson City Administrator, said the city will complete its purchase of the land this year and has a letter of intent from a California company with plans to build a plant there that will turn dairy manure into biogas, refine it and put it into the pipeline.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “It’s not here yet but we have a letter of intent.”
Wolfington said some parts of the original plant will remain intact, including the fuel hall, administrative office building, truck wash and scales.