Benson to support Brightmark at PUC

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Just when the City of Benson, Brightmark Energy and Xcel Energy thought they were past all the potential roadblocks a new development has intervened over the future use of the former Benson Power, LLC, site.

The Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company (CVEC) and BioPro Power (BPP) filed a formal complaint with the Minnesota Utilities Commission Jan. 25 contesting the sale of the assets of the site.

Those with an interest in the site’s use, including the City of Benson, have been given until 4:30 p.m., March 1, to comment on the complaint. The topics on which it can comment are:
- Does the PUC have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint?
- Is it in the public interest for the PUC to investigate these allegations upon its own motion?
- If the PUC chooses to investigate the complaint, what procedures should be used to do so?

At its meeting Monday night, the Benson council agreed that it would be responding to the PUC letter stating its support for the Brightmark project and stating that it was too late in the process for CVEC and BPP to now get involved.

Xcel will also be commenting on the process that led to it accepting Brightmark’s bid proposal and the process through which it sold the land and assets to the company.

Xcel Energy, which owns the Benson Power site and buildings, took bids Oct. 4 from Brightmark and BPP. Brightmark was interested in the fuel hall building, the administration building, the truck washing facilities, scale and road infrastructure.

Xcel would demolish the other buildings to four feet below grade, and then restore the land to grass. Brightmark would have ownership of the entire 78-acre site.

BPP was interested in the Foster Wheeler combustor and other assets. It says it needs only eight acres of the site and can co-exist with Brightmark owning the other 70 acres.

CVEC would use steam generated at the facility by BPP burning corn stover to power it needs to expand from a 50-million-gallon ethanol plant to 120 million gallons of production. Currently, that expansion is blocked by CVEC’s lack of access to natural gas, CVEC General Manager Chad Friese told the council late last year. It draws the maximum it can today from the existing line. Building a new natural gas line on its own to access additional sources of natural gas would be prohibitively expensive, Friese said.

At the Oct. 4 sale, Brightmark was awarded the property with its bid for $1 million. It has expressed a preference for owning the entire site rather than sharing it with BPP.

CVEC and BPP claim their bid for the site was $2.25 million for the purchase of the buildings and equipment they needed and $2.75 million for the entire site, according to the West Central Tribune.

While some estimates have put the cost site demolition at over $13 million, that cost was expected to be substantially reduced by the sale of the equipment and other recoverable assets of the plant.

If the PUC grants CVEC and BPP a hearing, the two companies plan on arguing that their offer benefits Xcel ratepayers as well as the Benson area. They have said their proposal has the potential to create as much as $27 million annually in economic activity for the area....


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