5 Minnesota energy projects selected for NextGen funding

By Minnesota Department of Agriculture | July 17, 2015

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has selected five renewable energy projects to receive NextGen Energy grants. The grants are part of the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation program to help fund creative and emerging agricultural projects. These grant awards were specifically targeted at projects using woody biomass to replace propane as a heat source in regions of the state without access to natural gas.

The purpose of the NextGen Grant Program is to expand and strengthen Minnesota’s commitment to the development of locally-owned and fueled renewable energy projects. Minnesota also aims to be a leading state in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“These projects cover various sectors of the state as well as different technologies for biomass heating. We continue to use our AGRI money wisely by investing in promising projects, which in this case may help develop markets for the use of wood as fuel in an environmentally responsible way,” said MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson.

Projects funded in this grant cycle:

Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Cloquet, Minnesota - $150,000 
The project will utilize wood chips in a new hot water District Heating system to meet 88-percent of the heating requirements for Fond du Lac’s Sawyer Community Center. This new system projects the replacement of over 15,000 gallons of propane a heating season while removing 85 tons of carbon dioxide from life cycle air emissions.

Viking Company, Albany, Minnesota - $149,535 
Viking Co., a family farm, is placing a wood chip-fired forced air furnace on a two-story broiler chicken facility to completely displace the barn’s liquid propane consumption. The major goals are significant cost savings using locally sourced wood chips, improved bird health, and humane treatment of the birds by means of a higher oxygen and lower humidity environment. An identical, on-site, two-story barn will remain heated with liquid propane to act as a control environment for comparison over the course of six flock rotations in each barn per year. The data generated from this study will provide insight into the cost-effectiveness and operation of wood chip-fired furnaces in poultry facilities and assist Minnesota poultry farmers in assessing their fuel-switching options.

Whitewater Gardens Farm, Altura, Minnesota - $34,622 
This operation is installing biomass heating to displace propane use in one or more of their greenhouses. The farm installed ground source heat pumps in 2010 and now will be using wood energy to further bring the greenhouses temperatures up during the winter months. The farm uses more than 10,000 gallons of propane per year. They estimate 45 cords of wood will be needed to replace this fuel, leading to potential savings of up to $8,000 a year. 

Minnesota State University-Mankato, Mankato, Minnesota - $138,000 
Minnesota State has agreed to conduct stack testing on each of the above three projects. Implementation of systems such as these three will need to coincide with cleaner systems and less emissions. MSU’s professors and students will monitor the systems and report on field performance.

Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission, Grand Marais, Minnesota - $50,000 
Matched by $50,000 from the Blandin Foundation, this award will be used to complete critical tasks related to the proposed Grand Marais District Heating System. The project will use locally available, underutilized waste wood and sawmill waste to produce hot water for heating and domestic hot water in multiple buildings. At present, Grand Marais has no access to natural gas and relies upon fuel oil and propane for heating. The system will help improve forest management, retain and create local jobs, and is projected to retain $5 million to $35 million in cumulative dollars in the local community depending upon the escalation in fossil fuel prices.

Projects were submitted for consideration by a technical team made up of members from five state agencies: Agriculture, Commerce, Natural Resources, Pollution Control, and Employment and Economic Development. This team scored each of the proposals separately under the guidelines detailed in the request for proposals of the NextGen grants.

The results of this selection process were reviewed by the board on November 13, 2014 and recommendations were made to Commissioner Dave Frederickson. All projects required at least a 50-percent match from the grantee.