Poultry manure fueled power plant proposed for region

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 7/7/99.

Turkey power could be coming to a central Minnesota county near Paynesville.

Fibrowatt, a British company, is investigating building a $75-million power plant in the area that would be fueled by poultry manure. The plant could use manure from turkeys, layer chickens, and broiler chickens as fuel.

Six counties--Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Stearns, Swift, and Todd--were selected because they are the center of the state's poultry industry. Those six counties have formed a committee, called Central Counties Partnership for Power, to help Fibrowatt develop a plant in the area.

A public meeting was held Thursday in Litchfield to present information about Fibrowatt and answer questions from the public.

Eric Jenkins, Fibrowatt's repre-sentative in the United States, told the audience in Litchfield that the power plant is a proven technology. Fibrowatt has three plants in England. The first one was built six years ago, and Fibrowatt now burns more than one million tons of poultry litter each year.

In England, regulations limiting the spreading of manure partially prompted the plants. Supporters of the proposed plant feel that manure disposal could become an increasing problem for producers, and that the plant could be an environmentally-friendly solution.

While refusing to disclose his company's finances, Jenkins said the company feels it needs 7 1/2 per kilowatt hour to make the plant profitable. The company is ready to borrow the funds to build the plant but needs to line up manure sources and a power customer before proceeding.

Jenkins said Minnesota produces over 200 million tons of poultry manure annually, and the plant would need just 500,000 tons. Already, the company has pledges for 320,000 tons of manure. The company plans to pay $2-$3 a ton for the manure, and to provide transportation to the plant, at the company's expense of $5-$6 per ton.

The company and some supporters lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to include the plant in a state subsidy for "green" power plants. The subsidy provides 1 1/2 per kilowatt to plants that use renewable resources to make energy. That effort failed in the last session, with legislators approving just $200,000 for investigation.

State Senator Steve Dille (R-Dassel) told the Litchfield gathering that there was resistance in the Senate to a $4.2 million per year subsidy. He felt a better option might be to include poultry manure as a biomass in the state's agreement with Northern States Power. Under the agreement, NSP was allowed to store spent nuclear fuel rods on Prairie Island, but had to buy "green" energy, 400 megawatts from wind and 125 megawatts from biomass.

Fibrowatt's poultry plant is expected to yield about 40 megawatts per year. "Down the line, what I would like to see is turkey litter plugged into that biomass mandate," Dille said.

Greg Langmo, a Litchfield turkey producer, contacted Fibrowatt last fall, after reading about their plant. While the cost for energy from the plant might not be as low as from other methods, say for nuclear power, he noted that because of its environmental soundness there aren't any hidden costs. Nuclear power might be cheaper, but "who's going to pay for storage for spent nuclear rods?"he asked. "I think I know."

A group from the six counties has traveled to England and toured Fibrowatt's plants there. Langmo and Meeker County Commissioner Dale Smolnisky related their impressions from the tour to the meeting in Litchfield. They said the plants were built to match the scenery and didn't smell.

Manure is hauled to the plant in sealed trucks, and stored under negative pressure. After it is burned, flying ash is filtered from the exhaust and mainly water vapor is emitted, according to the company. Bottom ash from the boiler house is also collected, and the ashes are used for field fertilizer. The company says there are no waste products.

The plant can burn manure from diseased birds, and Jenkins said it actually helped prevent the spread of avian diseases, which could be spread by birds landing in fields.

Jenkins said the plant would put $8 to $10 million per year in the local economy. Thirty-five employees would be needed, mostly specialists. Fibrowatt plans to own 20 percent of the plant, with 80 percent owned by local investors. "It will be run by Americans, " said Jenkins. "It will be an American company. It will pay American taxes."

Informational meetings will be held in the other six counties. There will be tours to Fibrowatt's plants in July and again in September.

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