OOPS, quick, somebody get ahold of Foster Wheeler, PDC Harris Group, Newport Partners, and get a handle on this.

Let me see if I understand… they put up this “biomass” burner as “clean energy” and violated the air permit, so egregiously that the MPCA is “most likely” to fine them, and are saying that the air permit has to be amended (loosened up, duh) because they based the permit on a biomass/fossil fuel combo… in other words, straight biomass is more polluting than biomass and coal, so they have to loosen up the permit or they’ll continue to be in violation. Oh, great. So I’d guess that everyone out there now has enough information to come to the reasonable conclusion that biomass is not “clean energy?”

From the Mesabi Daily News:

Utilities will likely get MPCA fines
Negotiations continue on manufacturer reimbursement

City Editor
Published: Thursday, March 6, 2008 9:59 PM CST

VIRGINIA – The Virginia and Hibbing public utilities will most likely be fined by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating the emission permit on its biomass boilers.

The utilities first notified the MPCA in mid-2007 that malfunctioning equipment was causing them to operate beyond the parameters of their air operating permits. Since then they have been working on a solution, including possible fines.

“The MPCA and the public utilities are close to agreeing to potential fines and a process to modify the air-operating permit in order to be in compliance in the future,’’ according to a joint news release issued Friday by both utilities.
Virginia Mayor Steve Peterson did not want to comment at this time because did not have enough information. He also said he has been out of town and not able to talk to Terry Leoni, general manager for the Virginia utility.

MPCA spokesperson Anne Moore confirmed the negotiations but could not comment on the timeframe or what fines might be forthcoming.

The boiler manufacturer will likely reimburse the utilities for the fine, according to the release.

“Our equipment manufacturers, Foster Wheeler and others, have provided us with technical and monetary support to correct these issues and we are working with Foster Wheeler through a settlement agreement to reimburse the utilities,’’ said Leoni.

The Laurentian Energy Authority, a public authority of the utilities, operates the biomass facilities cities under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy.

“As our new renewable energy biomass plants started up after construction, we experienced several equipment malfunctions in Hibbing and Virginia,’’ said Leoni. “This is common in new plant construction. As our technicians attempted to adjust the operations of the biomass boilers, we exceeded the permitted operating parameters.

In addition, “the MPCA has encouraged us to pursue an air permit amendment,’’ Leoni said in the release. “The original data used to prepare the permit compared our equipment to other dissimilar biomass boilers, which were co-fired with fossil fuels. We uncovered this error, and will now suggest to the MPCA that a modified permit use date from boilers like ours which utilize only biomass as the fuel source.’’

“We are confident that the changes our equipment manufacturer has made along with the permit modifications we are seeking will enable our public utilities to operate within permit parameters going forward,’’ said Jim Kochevar, general manager in Hibbing. “We also believe LEA has offset any excess emissions by the investments in our 1,700 acres of closed loop hybrid poplar tree plantations, which are good for the environment.’’

The Virginia and Hibbing public utilities formed LEA and invested more than $87 million in new biomass renewable electric power facilities in both communities, a new combined renewable fuel handling yard, and almost 1,700 acres of hybrid poplar tree plantations.

LEA now sells 35 megawatts of clean, renewable electric power to Xcel Energy, providing many new jobs in the logging, trucking, and fuel handling industries, along with preserving 70 jobs at the public utilities, the release states. LEA’s renewable energy production is helping Xcel meet Minnesota’s renewable energy mandates.

“This capital investment insured the survival of the two public utilities by creating a new customer, updating our plants, and continuing to produce energy for our customers in the cities of Hibbing and Virginia, said Kochevar.


Jim Romsaas can be reached at To read this story and comment on it online go to

One Response to ““Biomass” burner violates air permit – fines likely”

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