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PUC denies suppliers' petitions seeking to stop closure of Benson Power

Tribune file photo The Public Utilities Commission denied petitions by suppliers – including turkey growers, loggers, timber producers and truckers – asking it to reconsider decisions allowing Xcel Energy to purchase and close the Benson Power biomass plant.

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission rejected petitions by suppliers to the Benson Power biomass plant asking it to reconsider decisions allowing the plant's closing.

The Public Utilities Commissioners approved a motion to deny the petitions on a unanimous 4 - 0 vote at their meeting on Thursday in St. Paul.

Suppliers to the plant — including the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association as well as those representing loggers, timber producers and truckers — filed petitions asking the PUC to reconsider the earlier decisions allowing Xcel Energy to end its power purchase agreement with Benson Power and purchase and dismantle the plant.

The petitions argued that the decisions placed an excessive burden on the companies supplying and transporting turkey litter and wood pulp to the plant. Suppliers to the plant will lose $28.1 million a year in sales, according to an analysis by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The affected parties include area turkey producers, including Jennie-O Turkey Store; as well as Beaver Creek Transport, a Renville County-based trucking firm; and North American Fertilizer. The fertilizer plant uses ash from the biomass plant to produce fertilizer, and will lose $5.2 million in annual sales with the plant's closing.

The city of Benson had filed documents in the matter urging the PUC to reject the petitions and allow the plant closing.

The 2017 legislation that authorized the plant's closure also provided the city of Benson with $20 million to aid in the economic transition from the loss of the operations.

There is currently legislation authored in the state Senate by Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, and in the House by Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, that seeks to also provide compensation to the affected suppliers.

The legislation would set aside $40 million from the renewable development account and establish a process for an administrative law judge to consider claims for compensation.

Tom Cherveny

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

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