Report: MN Biomass Mandate Fails to Meet Original Intent

Date: 15 Jun 2005 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A new analysis from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance concludes that the Minnesota 1994 biomass mandate, rather than jump-starting a new industry using new energy crops, has become little more than a very costly waste-to-energy program.

The June 2005 report, Minnesota’s Biomass Mandate: An Assessment, was authored by David Morris, Vice President of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “It was a pioneering effort to encourage new energy crops and advanced energy conversion techniques,” says Morris, “Legislators knew that to achieve that goal would cost money, but agreed it was money well spent if it created a new homegrown industry,” he added.

In 1994, as part of an effort to promote renewable electricity, the Minnesota legislature required the state’s largest utility to generate or purchase 125 megawatts (MW) of biomass-fueled electricity by 2002. As of May 1, 2005 only 20 percent (25 MW) of the original mandated goal has come online. Another 50 MW is expected to become operational by mid 2007. Contracts for the remaining biomass have yet to be approved.

The assessement notes that almost immediately lobbyists began to carve out exemptions for individual businesses that were using wastes as their feedstock and traditional technologies to generate power. In 1999, the legislature even allowed turkey manure, a commercial fertilizer, to receive handsome subsidies if it were instead converted into electricity.

The result? As of May 2005, almost three years after the original biomass mandate was to have been fulfilled, less than 20 percent is operational. None of the currently proposed projects will use new or advanced technologies. Over 90 percent of the fuel will consist of waste wood or turkey manure. The cost to Xcel Energy’s electricity customers will be over $1.1 billion.

“Such an expense might have been justified if we had proved that alfalfa could be used as a fuel, or that a new whole tree energy conversion process was economical,” says Morris, currently a member of a Congressionally created Committee that advises the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture on biomass-related issues. “Instead it has become a billion dollar reward to aggressive corporate lobbyists.”


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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.