By Ivan Raconteur
WRIGHT COUNTY A proposal for construction of a biomass energy facility received a less-than-enthusiastic response from the Wright County Board Tuesday morning.
Michael Krause, principal of Kandiyohi Development Group, presented information regarding a proposed Great Northern Prairie Energy project to be located at the Whispering Winds industrial park in Rockford Township.
The project involves a 24 megawatt electrical generation facility that would use biomass fuel.
The fuel would come from wood from tree trimming, removal of diseased and storm damaged trees, and material from the collection of invasive species such as buckthorn and milfoil.
Electricity generated by the plant would be sold on the wholesale market, primarily through the Dickinson Springs substation for distribution in the Wright-Hennepin Electric Cooperative service area.
Krause said biomass energy is a carbon-neutral power source that reduces the effects of global warming and meets new state standards for renewable energy.
All Minnesota utilities must get at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources (such as wind, solar, and biomass) by 2025.
The proposed project would provide enough energy to support about 18,000 households.
The project is in the early stages of engineering and permitting, and the only action Krause was requesting at this time was a resolution in support of a personal property tax exemption.
The personal property (machinery, etc.) of non-utility businesses has been exempt from property taxes since the 1970s, according to Krause. In order to receive property tax exemption for personal property, utility companies must receive legislative approval.
No new power plant has been built in Minnesota since 1994 without receiving the exemption, according to Gary Cerkvenik, a lobbyist who represents the development group at the legislature.
Sen. Amy Koch and Rep. Tom Emmer have agreed to sponsor the legislation to allow the exemption, but this will require resolutions of support from the three taxing entities, the county, the township and the school district, Krause said.
The opposition began with Commissioner Dick Mattson saying he had information that made him not want the plant in Wright County and asking Krause why he would bring this request to the board.
Mattson also suggested that if the board were to act on the request, it might unduly influence the decision of the planning commission.
“Out of respect to you, we came here first,” Cerkvenik said.
“We are proceeding in a diligent, fair, and up-front fashion,” he added, noting that there are some people who oppose any type of development.
Cerkvenik said this is a carbon-neutral project, and 100 percent of the fuel would come from the local area, using material that is currently ending up in landfills.
“This (resolution) does not affect your authority over land use permitting,” Krause said.
He said the company is voluntarily doing an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the project, even though there is nothing in the project to trigger a requirement for this.
Krause also pointed out that the exemption for personal property tax does not mean that the plant would not be on the tax rolls.
“We are still paying (tax) for the value of the land and any improvements,” Krause said.
He said that other businesses in Minnesota do not pay personal property tax on machinery and equipment, and if the development group is not able to get the exemption, it may not be able to make the financing work.
“This plant would provide power that is renewable, but is competitive in terms of price,” Krause said.
The board members questioned Krause and Cerkvenik about a number of subjects, including the estimated tax value of the plant, the impact of water drain from the proposed private wells and the discharge of water into the Crow River.
In the end, the board tabled the issue for two weeks to give board members time to gather more information.
“On the surface, a biomass facility sounds like a good thing. We just want to be sure it is the same below the surface as it appears on the surface,” Board Chair Pat Sawatzke said, summing up.
Social security coverage extended to elected officials
The board adopted a resolution to allow elected officials to participate in the county’s defined contribution plan and make contributions to Social Security.
County Coordinator Dick Norman explained that the issue arose because Commissioner Rose Thelen would like to participate in both the defined contribution plan and make contributions to Social Security.
A law was passed in 2006 requiring elected officials to participate in the defined contribution plan. In order for elected official to be able to contribute to Social Security, the board had to adopt a resolution.
The resolution will bind all future Wright County Commissioners to the same rules, and cannot be changed. The resolution will be forwarded to the state. There is a 90 day waiting period to allow Thelen to change her mind.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• authorized board attendance at the Association of Minnesota Counties legislative conference Wednesday and Thursday, April 29 and 30 in St. Paul.
• scheduled the annual boy/girl county day Tuesday, April 21.