Biomass Plant Could Soon be Built in Grand Marais

By KBJR News 1

September 24, 2013 Updated Sep 24, 2013 at 5:40 PM CST

Grand Marais, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Most homes and businesses in Grand Marais are heated with propane or fuel oil, but a new alternative is in the works.

"The last three years we have been in earnest looking at the district heating system that could be utilized using biomass to heat public buildings and larger businesses," said Tim Kennedy with the Grand Marais City Council.

Biomass would take the usable components of overaged aspen and birch trees in the forest to heat buildings. The idea is that the cost of burning wood is cheaper than petroleum based resources.

"This is a sustainable type of energy, locally produced, that hopefully would benefit the community in a broader way," said Kennedy.

Kennedy says the dollars will stay in the community and the biomass plant will help create jobs in the small town of nearly 1,400. The only thing standing in the way is financing. The Cook County Local Energy Project has requested $4.5 million dollars in bonding money from the Minnesota State Legislature to help fund the nine million dollar biomass plant.

"This is not going be a project that falls on the taxpayers. This is all going to have to be paid for by revenues from the plant," said Kennedy.

The wood will come from within a 60 mile radius of Grand Marais, all within Cook County. That would be enough wood to heat 21 of the city's largest buildings including schools, the hospital, and the county courthouse.

"If we can help them cut back on their heating bills, then they'll be able to survive and sustain themselves and be a service to the community," said Biomass Project Co-Chair Paul Nelson.

$350,000 has been allocated by Cook County Commissioners to conduct a feasibility study for the biomass plant. The community was also recently awarded a $250,000 grant from the U-S-D-A to design a business plan and fund an engineering study.

"If it doesn't look like it's a really safe bet; If it doesn't look like the customer's payments would support the plant, then we're not going to build it," said Nelson.

The community voiced concerns about pollution from the plant, but organizers say they are looking at a biomass plant with pollution control equipment built in.

Written and posted to the web by Raeanna Marnati
rmarnati@kbjr.com