CVEC, BioPro Power ask Benson for support on its joint project

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Two firms seek to use small part of Benson Power site for steam generation

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News


Benson Power, Inc.’s, Foster Wheeler combustor and other assets of the plant represent the potential for tremendous economic development for the Benson area.

That was the message representatives of the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company (CVEC) and BioPro Power (BPP) gave the Benson City Council Monday night. However, they said, they need to be given time to research the feasibility of the project and get the financing in line to move forward.

The problem is that CVEC and BPP are coming to the discussions about the future of the Benson Power site very late. They began exploring how the two could work together to repurpose part of the biomass power plant facilities to generate steam in late August.

Steam generated by burning corn stover would provide the power CVEC 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. It draws the maximum it can today from the existing line. Building a new natural gas line would be prohibitively expensive, CVEC General Manager Chad Friese told the council.

For the more than 18 months the city has been working with San Francisco company Brightmark Energy (BME) on its plans for developing the Benson Power site with methane digesters that would produce natural gas.  The anaerobic digesters would use biomass that could include animal and poultry manure, sugar beet waste, and other products. That gas would go to the nearby Alliance Pipeline.

BME is looking at an initial investment of $100 million with a total investment of near $250 million if the project is fully developed.

Xcel Energy, which owns the 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.

BPP was also seeking ownership of the site, but was not interested in the generating equipment or the facilities needed by Brightmark. It also stated that it was willing to share the site with Brightmark if it won the bid.

A letter from the City of Benson supported Brightmark’s bid. The company had also been involved in discussions with Xcel Energy for months on the purchase of the site.

Xcel Energy accepted Brightmark’s bid leaving BPP out of the deal.

Truman Homme, CEO and board chair of BPP, and Friese told the council that they had tried to work out an agreement with Brightmark for sharing the site, but it wasn’t interested.

That led them to come to the Benson council to ask that it intervene with Brightmark on its behalf.

Right now there is an asset with tremendous potential sitting on the Benson Power site the use of which would benefit CVEC, the Benson community, and area farmers, Friese told the council. What CVEC and BioPro Power would like is the time to see what they could do with it, he said.

BPP states in its letter that it would be willing to pay to the City of Benson, or BME, $2.25 million for the 8.14 acres that includes the Benson Power project site buildings it needs....


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