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New power agreement could ensure ash waste wood management

Xcel Energy could be allowed to continue buying electricity from a St. Paul power plan that generates power in part by burning trees from emerald ash borer-infected cities and counties.

HF1255, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), sets the parameters for the new purchase agreement between Xcel Energy and District Energy St. Paul, to be reached by Aug. 1, 2021.

The new contract between Xcel Energy and District Energy would go through 2024.

The bill, first heard in July 2020, would require the plant to continue using waste wood as its primary fuel source. It would require Xcel Energy to pay less for the electricity than under the existing agreement, and it would require projects that result in the St. Paul facility eventually being powered by renewable energy.

The bill on Thursday was approved 16-0 by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee and was referred to the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF1047, is sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) and awaits action by the full Senate.

Xcel Energy's contract with District Energy St. Paul, set to expire after 2022, arose from a 1994 law that required the utility to purchase 125 megawatts of electricity from biomass plants by 2003.

The mandate was in exchange for legislation that allowed Xcel Energy to store nuclear waste on land at its Prairie Island plant.

In recent years, District Energy St. Paul has become a key place where cities, counties, land owners and businesses send waste wood infested or potentially infested with emerald ash borer, which can't be landfilled.

The facility says it's used twice as much tree waste as fuel last year than in 2012.

The state prefers that infested ash waste wood be repurposed or reused instead of burned as fuel or composted. But in written testimony, Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said the only practical outlet for ash waste wood at this time is to send it to the St. Paul facility.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) calls the bill a "win-win-win situation."

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