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The Green Institute proposes to build biomass power plant

The plant would help reduce greenhouse gases and be a renewable energy source for the Phillips community.
By Heather Poliseno

A winter that has often felt like spring and a number of hurricanes that attacked the Gulf Coast have stirred up talk about global warming and humans&prime' effects on the environment, said Dr. Kevin Theissen, a geology professor at the University of St. Thomas. And that has led to increased interest in alternative energy sources.

Locally, the Green Institute in Minneapolis has proposed to build a biomass power plant that would help reduce greenhouse gases and be a renewable energy source for the Phillips community.

The institute is attempting to purchase the South Transfer Station on 20th Ave. S., a drop-off site for solid waste, and wants to transform it into a 20-megawatt facility, enough energy to power 20,000 homes. The plant would burn wood debris from tree trimmings and construction sites to create electricity, said Carl Nelson, director of the Community Energy Program.

Currently, the biomass plant project is on hold while the city of Minneapolis decides if it wants to give up the site to the Green Institute. Another party has offered to create the biomass plant, or the city could potentially create the plant itself.

Council Member Scott Benson told the Minneapolis Observer, "There are all kinds of options out there. I don′t want to limit this to selling the property to a specific party."

The Green Institute is no stranger to the South Transfer Station. Located across the street, the Green Institute was formed in 1993 when community members wanted to stop the expansion of the transfer station. After the expansion was halted, Nelson said members of the institute asked, "Are we going to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Couldn′t we turn [the station] into reusable energy?"

The institute, along with the Phillips Community Energy Cooperative, decided to try to buy the site and develop a biomass power plant to provide a clean, renewable energy source for the community, according to the Green Institute.

The Phillips cooperative has about 2,500 members and offers energy-efficient products and services, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and widow insulation kits, to the Phillips community, according to the Green Institute.

"The Green Institute has conceived this project as being at least in part community-owned, and our partner, the Phillips Community Energy Cooperative, would provide that community ownership," Nelson said. "Maintaining this community ownership would be an important aspect of the project."

The reduction in greenhouse gases will be the equivalent of taking 40,000 cars off the road every year once the plant is in operation. The use of local, renewable materials as fuel will help alleviate dependence on imported energy sources, according to the institute.

The biomass plant would be fueled by approximately 30 semi-truck loads of wood chips a day, which would be used to create steam in a boiler that would power turbines used to generate electricity, Nelson said.

While wood chips are not necessarily as efficient as coal as a fuel, Nelson said that waste heat would be captured and used to directly heat the Phillips community, including the recently renovated Sears building and Abbott Northwestern Hospital, a feature that helps improve the efficiency of the plant.

"A lot of our inefficiency is having power plants that don′t capture all of the energy they′re producing," Theissen said.

Nelson said the most important aspects of this project are using renewable resources, net carbon reduction and community ownership.

In addition, about 200 jobs will be created during construction and 20 full-time jobs will be created at the plant upon completion, institute officials estimate.

"Half are trainable jobs," Nelson said. "[Applicants] wouldn′t need more than a high school education."

These jobs would also be "much better than living wage jobs," he added.

The Green Institute has held community meetings to get feedback from the community and has tried to address concerns of local residents and business owners. These include traffic from delivery trucks, smoke stack emissions, noise and dust.

"We′ve worked to minimize the impacts on the neighborhood," Nelson said.

At the earliest, the project will be completed in 2008 and will cost $60 million. Institute officials have considered possibly going with a smaller project.

"The amount of fuel we′d need for that size of project would be difficult to procure," Nelson said.

Funding would come from a number of sources, including federal bonds for clean, renewable energy, loans from private companies and federal tax credits. Nelson also hopes a utility, such as Xcel Energy, will buy 20 to 25 years of the power.

Nelson said he sees this plant as an important step toward reaching the larger goal of reducing the effects humans have on global warming and moving toward renewable energy.

"If we don′t," he said, "we′re going to start seeing impacts of global warming going beyond having a pleasant January."


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