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Poultry power in motion


Benson, Minn. — A $100 million project to burn turkey manure for electricity, the first of its kind in the country, is progressing steadily in Swift County.

Fibrominn, a subsidiary of the British electric company Fibrowatt, will build a 50-megawatt power plant in Benson — a site chosen last December from more than a dozen potential locations in central Minnesota, where the state’s poultry industry is concentrated.

The planned power plant could burn 500,000 tons of turkey waste a year, producing enough electricity to supply more than 67,000 households.

Solidifying support

In late March, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a 22-year power purchase agreement between Fibrominn and Xcel Energy (formerly Northern States Power Company). The agreement forms part of a 1994 NSP compromise with the Minnesota Legislature; Xcel Energy is required to provide 125 megawatts of electricity from biomass sources in exchange for storing radioactive waste at its Prairie Island nuclear plant.

In May, the Minnesota Legislature considered exempting Fibrominn from annual personal property taxes on plant equipment. The exemption would be worth about one million dollars a year, according to Robert Wolfington, Benson city manager. The proposed exemption does not include real estate property taxes, he notes.

The Minnesota Legislature also considered forgiving sales taxes on construction materials for the plant, a one-time exemption worth about $800,000, Wolfington says. At press time, the legislation was tied up in a special session.

Community connections

In April, a citizen panel was formed to address public concerns related to the Fibrominn plant. The 12-member group will advise the company on odor, truck traffic and other issues, encouraging open communication between local residents and Fibrominn, Wolfington says.

Meanwhile, AURI is working with central Minnesota farmers and agribusinesses interested in processing or marketing ash from the plant, says Jack Johnson, manager of AURI’s coproducts utilization program in Waseca. The ash, a byproduct of burning turkey manure, is a concentrated source of phosphorus, potash, organic matter and other plant nutrients.

Currently, Fibrominn is waiting for permits from the State of Minnesota, then it will seek financing. The $100 million deal could be in place as early as September, Wolfington says. “As you can imagine, this is a good time to build a power plant.”