That's not trash, it's biomass

Energy bill includes provision on burning garbage

By Lenora Chu

ST. PAUL -- The Senate bill that authorized additional nuclear waste storage at Xcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear power plant also included a provision that is being closely watched by Olmsted County officials.

Promoted by local legislators, the measure would permit the county to reclassify energy produced by its waste-to-energy facility, which burns municipal solid waste, as "biomass." The Prairie Island bill passed on a 42-24 vote.


The waste-to-energy provision would allow the county to sell this power at a higher rate. Under the bill, energy produced by burning garbage would be counted as "green power," which sells for a penny-and-a-half more per kilowatt-hour than energy generated from burning coal.

"This will help our people in Olmsted County have a more affordable waste disposal option by allowing (the facility) to sell energy at retail rates," said Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, a Rochester Independent who lobbied for the measure.

Amy Caucutt, Olmsted County's legislative analyst, estimated the measure could save the county $250,000 a year.

The biomass reclassification would also allow utilities to count the power it purchases from waste-to-energy facilities toward a state recommendation that renewable energies comprise 10 percent of all power sold by Minnesota utilities by 2015.

"RPU doesn't have to buy from us, but (the legislation) does put us in a better bargaining position," Caucutt said.

If the measure passes, it would also give county officials an advantage in bargaining for state bonding money to finance construction of a second burner.

Olmsted County now operates one burner, which produces energy and reduces the amount of garbage headed to landfills.

The only waste-to-energy production system in southeastern Minnesota, the Olmsted County facility can burn up to 180 tons of garbage a day. In 1999, half the power the county generated was sold to the local energy grid, roughly a quarter was used to power buildings in the Rochester area, and the remaining quarter was used to power the facility, according to a county report.


Rep. Bill Kuisle, a rural Rochester Republican, introduced the provision as a separate bill in the House, and supporters say the measure is likely to be approved and signed into law.

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