Benson Power Plant’s Destiny In Question 22 Sep 17

Last week, two men with Benson connections testified before the Minnesota Legislature in regards to the potential closure of the city’s power plant, formerly known as Fibrominn.

Ten years ago, the Plant started burning turkey litter and woodchips on behalf of Xcel Energy. Benson Power, which oversees the daily operations on-site, had reached an agreement to sell the resulting energy to Xcel, which helped the latter company meet a legislative mandate from 1994.

In May 2017, the Legislature passed a law directing the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to assemble a study about what the Plant’s closure would mean for the area. Last week, the Legislative Energy Commission received an update on the Department’s work, and took testimony from the community.

One of the people who testified was Reed Anfinson, Publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News, who had spent some time on the Benson Economic Development Authority. He summarized some of the key reasons why this is happening, and the mixed future he envisions for jobs in town if the closure gets approved.

In 1994, Xcel Energy received a mandate to produce or purchase 125 megawatts of electricity from biomass sources, in exchange for storage flexibility at the Prairie Island Nuclear Station of Welch, Minnesota. Since 2007, a large portion of that biomass generation came from the Benson facility.

During the previous legislative session, a proposal was made to end the biomass mandate, and allow Xcel to renegotiate the contract. Ultimately, the language didn’t make it into law, but it caught the attention of Craig Mataczynski.

Mataczynski is the former Director of Coporate Strategy for Northern States Power Company, which is now Xcel Energy. He was concerned about the impact the proposed closure would have both on Benson employees, as well as the loggers and truckers who deliver the biomass to the site. In his testimony, he explained what he would like to see happen next.

Benson officials state that the plant employs 45 people, and provides roughly 25 percent of the city’s property tax revenue. In 2006, the Plant was highlighted in Governor Pawlenty’s State of the State Address and toured by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Public Utilities Commission has not made a final ruling on the Plant’s fate.