City keeps wary on Minnesota Legislature

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In the last days of its 2017 session, Minnesota’s Legislature passed the Omnibus Jobs & Energy bill including language that would see the City of Benson paid $20 million for economic development to compensate for the loss of Benson Power, LLC.

Though the payments were written into legislation passed by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, and signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, nothing is written in stone and can be undone by succeeding Legislatures.

That is the reason Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington has been making frequent trips to St. Paul to monitor legislation that could have an impact on the city’s promised compensation. Benson’s first $4 million payment is scheduled to come by June 30 this year with $6 million payments coming in both June 2019 and June 2020. A final $3 million payment is to be made in June 2021.

The 55-megawatt power plant at Benson’s western edge uses turkey litter and wood chips to produce electricity. However, its energy is 7 to 10 times more expensive for Xcel Energy to buy than wind or solar power. Both wind and solar are becoming a larger piece of Xcel’s energy portfolio.

Minnesota’s Legislature cleared the path for Xcel buying and shutting down Benson Power last year. In rulings late in 2017 and again this year, the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Xcel’s proposed purchase of the plant; that purchase should lead to its closure this summer and eventual demolition.

With the plant’s closure, 45 jobs are being lost – many who once worked full-time at the plant have already sought other jobs. When the plant was being proposed for construction in Minnesota in the late 1990s, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) estimated it would mean an $8 to $10 million annual economic boost for the area where it was constructed....


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