Future of Benson Power before PUC Nov. 30; loggers sue to stop closing

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 Xcel Energy’s petition to end its power purchase agreement with Benson Power, LLC, goes before the Public Utilities Commission Nov. 30.

Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) is scheduled to meet Thursday, Nov. 30, to decide what action it will take on Xcel Energy’s proposed termination of its power purchase agreement with Benson Power, LLC.

The PUC could approve Xcel’s petition, deny it, or delay a decision. Parties unhappy with the PUC’s action, for or against, could appeal it.

The agreement requires Xcel to buy the 55 megawatts of electricity produced by the power plant, which burns a combination of turkey litter and wood chips, through 2028.

When Benson Power, known initially as Fibrominn, was constructed back in 2005, Xcel signed the 22-year power purchase agreement obligating it to buy the plant’s power. The deal helped satisfy Xcel’s requirement to buy 125 megawatts of green energy under the state’s biomass mandate. Passed as part of an agreement under which Xcel was permitted to store spent nuclear fuel at Prairie Island, the mandate has become a financial burden.

Natural gas, solar and wind power are now far cheaper ways to produce electricity than burning biomass. Xcel says ending the agreement will save its customers up to $500 million even after it pays out millions to those that adversely affected by the plant’s closing. The City of Benson is one of those parties.

If the PUC approves Xcel’s petition to terminate the power purchase agreement, it would then proceed with buying Benson Power from its East Coast owners. The owners are primarily a group of large insurance company investors. Should Xcel’s purchase of the power plant be finalized, it plans on shutting it down by as early as the summer of 2018. It would then proceed with tearing it down.

As the PUC discusses Xcel’s petition, another action is taking place in a court in Cass County.

The Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota have sued to block closure of Benson Power. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Cass County and says a shutdown would hurt the environment and cost jobs....

 

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Pictured: Xcel Energy’s petition to end its power purchase agreement with Benson Power, LLC, goes before the Public Utilities Commission Nov. 30.

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