Ramble On

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fibrowatts Citizen Council in Minnesota - Part 1

I spent some time over the last few days reviewing the Fibrominn website – this being the Minnesota power plant built and owned by Fibrowatt (I borrowed the plant photo from their site - if anyone has objections or views this as a copyright issue, let me know by comments, please).

My intention was to learn of the Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP) operated and dealt with potential community issues, including truck traffic, odors and emissions. In general, the meeting minutes are short on details regarding the technical discussions that were surely held, especially during the meetings where environmental permitting issues were raised, but in general, they report a straightforward process that engaged and informed the community.

The CAP process happened in two phases, first as a City of Benson effort that started in April 2001 and went through October 2003. After that, and the subject of a future post, the effort was sponsored by Fibrominn for the remaining time it was in operation. The first group was a 12 member panel of local citizens chosen to represent the Benson community and provide public input during the development, construction and operation of the Fibrominn project. Their mission statement was: “Citizens and Fibrominn working together to transmit and receive information and provide feedback to ensure community ownership and awareness.

During the very first session of the Benson CAP, the following assumptions, concerns, and issues were discussed:

  • The trucks will be cleaned and disinfected before leaving the plant
  • The goal is to have zero discharge of water
  • The signing of the Excel Energy purchase agreement, with a reference to Minnesota’s Biomass energy mandate
  • Assumptions that other types of biomass would be used at the plant
  • Goal of 500K tons of biomass/manure fuels annually
  • About one half of the manure contracts were signed
  • Storage period for litter of 5-10 days
At the conclusion of this first meeting, a progress report was given regarding the site plan, and the procurement of a construction contractor, which was to begin immediately.

As the meetings progressed, the discussions moved on to the types of fees that would be paid to the city, including: land lease, backup power and generation fees, sewer fees, four kinds of water fees. There is also a discussion about the arrangement of various tax exemptions. The types of real estate property taxes to be made, and wetlands management requirements, since the site had proximity to an airport where designations had been previously made – this also created a downstream issue on permitting the plant’s exhaust stack.

A couple of the meeting minutes that might be of particular issues to Page County readers are the September 2001 meeting, which specifically discusses odors, steam emissions, and the like; and the March 2002 minutes, which discusses the selection of the construction contractors, time frames for construction and questions about construction labor. These links follow today's post.

As the CAP effort continued, permitting occupied a lot of the discussion. The process took upwards of a year with periods of public review and comment and revision to the submissions. In July 2002, there was a discussion of exhaust limits, permissible types of biomass fuels, and even road dust and noise impacts. At one point during the permitting process, enough time had passed that the design of the exhaust systems was reviewed and changed – with a positive impact on overall water use at the plant by changing to an air cooled system.

The final meeting under Benson sponsorship was held in October 2003. By that time, apparently construction was underway – I should mention that a Canadian firm was selected, and there was broad discussion about this decision. The other main issue at the time was the FAA clearance for stack height due to proximity to the Benson airport – this issue had been resolved by that time.

Next post will look at the Fibrominn CAP process, which began after the Benson group ended in 2003. Reference links in today’s post:

Main page about the CAP process:  http://www.fibrominncap.org/index.html

September 2001 minutes with discussions about odors, steam emissions, etc.: http://www.fibrominncap.org/minutes/2001-09-25%20Benson%20CAP.pdf

March 2002, selection of Canadian contractor and general questions about construction:


Anonymous said...

Jim, thank you for the copious amount of research you have compiled and synthesized here; I will delve into the details but had a question to ask that kept reverberating as I read this post:

how and by whom was the decision made to construct this plant in Benson?

Because all of this citizen activism / input seems totally fait accompli - they are coming, now what?

Whereas I think we in Page are attempting to understand whether we think they should come at all...as though we think we have a say (apologies for remembering all too well how the $7.5MM / $11.8MM project clover purchase went down.)

So what I'm trying to understand here is, what role, if any, did the citizens of Benson play in determining WHETHER this plant should be in their community...or was it just left to them to react to some decree issued from on high?

And...is there any way to integrate your, Keith, and Jay's information gathering and citizen posts, or do we all have to check all three sites?

Jay Dedman said...

Being so early in the process, I think multiple places of research is smart. Each place is going about it differently.

I'm glad we're looking at FibroMinn's orgins.

I'll be even more interested to see the reality after it was built and has been in use for a while now.

--Did it bring in enough local jobs to make a difference?
--Did the locality end up subsidizing much of the construction and/or infrastructure?
--Are the fees/taxes from the plant really significant?
--What is the effect on property values?

Speaking to citizens and leaders in Minnesota now, would they have down it all over again? They have the benefit of hindsight that we can learn from.

Jim said...


Please Send me an email at jamesturnerjr@aol.com. I am working on a post, along the lines of what you've said, that I'd like to share with you - thanks,


Terry Walmsley said...

While I think much of the process on the selection of Benson has been addressed in subsequent interviews that Mr. Turner has had with individuals in Minnesota, let me provide a few more details.

(Sue in the Valley) I note in your profile (found elsewhere) that you are a former banker so I suspect you will understand what an anchor industry like the poultry industry can mean to the local economy. Furthermore, as a farmer, you no doubt also understand the benefits of such a large domestic outlet for farm products. The invitations to site a plant in several Minnesota communities were based on both of these points and what a tightening regulatory approach would mean to the industry and the communities that are reliant on the success of the poultry industry.

Need in Minnesota: As has been indicated in a follow-up post by Mr. Turner, the reason Fibrowatt ended up in Minnesota was through invitation. The State of Minnesota and some of the local municipalities were considering stricter poultry litter management regulations and guidelines that would have made poultry farming substantially more difficult if not prohibitive. When these growers and their farm organizations began to consider this trend toward more burdensome regulation, they became concerned that without other alternatives, these rules could potentially drive these multi-generational family businesses away from the region or state (or country). At that point, one of the poultry farmers contacted Fibrowatt in the UK and invited the company to consider development of a plant in the State.

Background Community Support: When Fibrowatt met with the poultry industry and saw their real need and commitment, the Company suggested that they reach out to their communities and see if they would support such a solution. Since the poultry industry was the anchor to much of this rural economy, these communities quickly understood how important a Fibrowatt plant could be, even if the plant was not in their own town. The region put together a multi-county organization to pursue a Fibrowatt plant in the region. What these communities recognized was that the local economy was a web of poultry-supported jobs and the community relied directly and indirectly on the industry related to tax revenue and local spending.

Importance of the Poultry Industry: What is often overlooked by the general public in these rural areas is how important the poultry industry is to the local economy. The poultry industry is far more than the poultry farm. Employment is often extensive and built around several aspects of the industry, (a) feed farming/processing, (b) poultry rearing, and (c) poultry processing.

Continued in next comment >>

Terry Walmsley said...

Importance to Farm Employment: In Minnesota, a significant outlet for crops in the area (corn and soy bean) is the poultry industry and therefore local farmers can be very dependent on the industry. Beyond the farm, local feed mills exist that provide batch feed (value added product) to the poultry farms. Supporting these two segments is a number of support services (seed, fertilizer, fuel, agricultural equipment suppliers, etc.) that likewise are indirectly dependent on the poultry industry.

Importance to Poultry Farm Employment: The community further benefits from the economic impact of the poultry farm beyond the direct farm employment and tax revenue. These farms require a number of support services such as poultry bedding suppliers, propane suppliers, companies that deliver hatch-lings and remove birds prior to processing, poultry litter clean-out companies, farm repair and construction providers, feed transportation company’s, and other support functions. Each of these contribute to the overall economic health of these rural communities.

Importance of Poultry Processing Employment: While a poultry processing plant is not located in each of these communities, the economic reach of these operations can be very widespread. Because of the economics of poultry rearing, the birds are raised in close proximity to the processing plant. Therefore the economic benefits of the processing plant will extend in some way into each of these communities. Processing plants are significant employers and throw-off a lot of economic benefits. Where there is a concentration of jobs, there will be a number of support jobs tied directly or indirectly to this employer. These plants employee a diverse number of jobs from production line to mechanical & electrical design, maintenance, administrative, marketing, advertising, and community outreach. These plants are also supported by a multitude of secondary suppliers such as mechanical equipment, gas supply, electrical supply, cold storage facilities for finished product, veterinary services, packaging equipment and supplies, waste processing, training, and other support functions. Just as important, these processing plants and their direct and indirect jobs provide added economic benefits by providing the population density necessary to support more advanced health care, recreational outlets, increased shopping outlets and malls, schools, and other employment opportunities.

Continued in next comment >>

Terry Walmsley said...

Community Involvement: When the individual communities began to recognize the benefits of a Fibrowatt plant, they took the next step to better understand what a Fibrowatt plant would mean to their community. As part of the process, municipal leaders requested presentations where Fibrowatt was able to better explain their solution for poultry litter management. When they got more comfortable, they took tours of existing facilities in the UK at their own expense. While in these communities, they asked the local regulatory agencies about the plant, went on their own to talk with individual citizens on the street about plant impacts, learned how the host community participated in the planning of the facility, and importantly asked about whether odor was an issue at these plants.

After this due diligence, they then decided if they wanted to submit a proposal for the siting of a plant in their community. In the end, there were upwards of 30 communities that supported a site in their communities. Based on the interest of these communities, four separate counties submitted proposals with multiple sites for consideration. Working with the counties, explaining what siting criteria was of most importance to a plant; these counties were able to narrow their proposals to a single site for further consideration- what was indentified as the short list of sites under consideration.

At that point, Fibrowatt soon held an open-house informational meeting in each of these communities so that citizens in these communities could learn more about the project, ask questions of Fibrowatt, ask questions of the municipal leaders (government and private citizens) that had visited the UK facilities, and review some of the information assembled to support projects in their communities. After consideration of the findings and results of these open house meetings, the short list communities submitted final proposals and eventually the City of Benson was chosen as the host community for the Fibrominn plant in Minnesota.

Terry Walmsley
Fibrowatt LLC

Jay Dedman said...

Terry, glad you love our farmers. We love them too. But so far we're talking generalities.

Let's talk specifics. In other communities, it's said that Fibrowatt pays $3-$5 for a ton of poultry litter IF its dry. Much less if wet. Farmers sign a 10-year contract with you that are confidential, so it's difficult to fact check ;)--(can we see a contract?)

Currently, farmers themselves sell their manure for fertilizer spreading at $25-a-ton. In your deal, they get paid less...and the other farmers must now buy more expensive and possibly more harmful chemical fertilizer.

I know you are paid to do PR for Fibrowatt so I have no illusion of changing your mind, but these conversations would be better if we get down to details. Lots of valuable questions to get into if you're up for it.

Anyone can go here for the official line: http://www.fibrowattusa.com/fibrowatt-facts/

Terry Walmsley said...

Response to Jay Dedman:

Fibrowatt is responsive to the needs of the poultry grower. The structure of this relationship with each individual grower is not appropriately portrayed according to your "apples-to-oranges" comparison. Fibrowatt offers a number of services to the grower that become the basis for the final relationship.

Our litter management service is built on the basis of helping the grower manage their "excess litter" and rarely anticipates the use of all of a growers litter unless that is what they desire. Litter can continue to be available for farm use where it can be sustainably applied according to a crops agronomic nutrient application rate.

Terry Walmsley
Fibrowatt LLC

Jay Dedman said...

Who's talking apples-and-oranges? We're talking poultry manure.

You are correct that farmers do not have the sell their litter to you at $3-a-ton dry (less if wet). They also don't have to sign a 10-year confidential contract with you. It's their choice to do this.

But I do wonder: where will Fibrowatt get 500,000-700,000 tons per year if you only expect to get the "excess litter"? Page certainly doesnt produce this much manure. This is a lot of natural fertilizer to run your proposed plant. I assume you'll be trucking it from far away?

When you come into Luray next time, let us know. I know we'd all love to take you out for a meal. We can talk about your days at UVA and growing up in NOVA. Maybe take a drive on Skyline to Big Meadows. I'll take a photo of you in front of our beautiful valley. Be great for your website.

Terry Walmsley said...

Jay -

I would love to have the opportunity to share a meal with you. I will be in the area next week - maybe we can meet for breakfast. Big Meadows and the Drive have always been favorites. My first date with my wife was backpacking along the AT so any chance I can get to go up in the Blue Ridge Mts is welcome.

Jay Dedman said...

I know Tuesday, March 2, is the big Fibrowatt meeting in Luray at 7pm. Just let us know when you'd like to meet for breakfast. We can go to Uncle Buck's.

Jay Dedman 540 860 0673

ryanne hodson said...

Just wanted to note that in the FibroHills Contract (which I have a copy of) to be agreed upon and signed by poultry producers and Fibrohills (Fibrowatt in NC), it states that:

"Grower shall not schedule collection of Poultry Litter hereunder unless there will be at least eighteen (18) Tons of Poultry Litter available for collection at each Grower's Site to be collected on a given Collection Date. The Company may refuse to collect Poultry Litter from any Grower Site on any Collection Date if there is less-than eighteen (18)
Tons of Poultry Litter available for collection at such Grower site on such collection Date."

Terry is stating that they want to help the growers with "excess" litter. Though "excess" means no less than (18) tons. They won't pick up unless the grower has at least (18) tons for Fibrowatt.

It seems to me that this sets up a catch 22. You either sell to farmers or sell to Fibrowatt. There is no "excess". They take it all.

Jim said...

I've been busy at work and hadn't had the chance to read all of this material. I am going through it tonight and will consider carving some posts out of it. Thanks for keeping the dialog at a high level and very informative.