Minnesota bill could help businesses hurt by Benson plant closure

By Erin Voegele | January 25, 2019

In Minnesota, legislation to provide compensation to businesses affected by the closure of the biomass-fired Benson Power Plant has passed a key committee hurdle, according to a statement released by the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus.

On Jan. 22, Senate File 182 was cleared by the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee and laid over for possible inclusion in a forthcoming budget bill. The measure was authored by state Sen. Andrew Land, R-Olivia. According to the MNSRC, former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed similar legislation last year.

Xcel Energy purchased the Benson Power Plant in 2017 and closed the facility despite being under contract to buy the plant’s power through 2028. According to the Biomass Magazine online plant map, the 50 MW Benson Power LLC facility fired a mix of wood chips and poultry litter.

“The closure of the Benson Biomass Plant had a serious impact on many area businesses and individuals that served the plant. They are facing serious financial losses and business closures,” Lang said in a statement. “These losses are having an undeniable effect on our area. My legislation aims to assist those businesses and individuals who are experiencing financial hardship and aid in the development of other avenues.”

According to the MNSRC, SF 182 would shift $40 million in non-taxpayer dollars into a special account for the businesses affected by the plant’s closure and establish a process for receiving compensation. MNSRC indicated compensation would come from a fund to which Excel Energy makes an annual contribution. In order to be eligible for the compensation, businesses would be required to demonstrate a valid contract or an ongoing business relationship with the plant. Businesses would also be required to show decreased operating income or the loss of property value based on the plant’s closure.

The Benson Power facility, formerly known as Fibrominn, began operations in 2007 and was celebrated as a first-of-its-kind power facility.