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St. Paul / Options to save plant narrow
Best energy source for Rock-Tenn could prove controversial
BY JASON HOPPIN
Article Last Updated: 03/31/2007 09:23:26 PM CDT
It turns out that saving jobs, saving the city
and saving the world isn't that easy after all.
A report outlining environmentally friendly
options to fuel a new power plant near University
Avenue in St. Paul offers no simple alternatives
to "refuse-derived fuel," which is processed from
garbage and which many neighbors oppose.
The plant would provide heat and possibly power
to the Rock-Tenn paper recycling facility, which
processes half of all the recycled paper in the state.
Since 1983, Rock-Tenn has met its huge appetite
for heat by getting steam through a 5-mile
pipeline connected to the High Bridge power plant
near downtown St. Paul. When Xcel Energy shuts
down the coal-fired plant this summer, the steam
production will cease, forcing Rock-Tenn to look elsewhere for heat.
A study by Minneapolis' Green Institute outlines
several biomass options for fueling a plant at
Rock-Tenn, including burning yard waste,
demolition materials or farmed native grasses.
The report concludes that those options appear to
be too expensive, in need of further study or otherwise problematic.
Local officials are deeply concerned about the
fate of Rock-Tenn and the 500 high-paying jobs
there. Having weathered the departures of
industrial giants such as Whirlpool, 3M and now
Ford Motor Co., many do not want to see another major business leave town.
The key to keeping the company in town is
replacing its source of steam heat. But doing
that is like solving a compli-cated
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Rock-Tenn, the St. Paul Port Authority and
District Energy - the downtown energy utility
that cools and heats much of the area by burning
yard waste - have signed an agreement to explore
building a power plant on Rock-Tenn's 43-acre
campus using renewable technologies. The Port
Authority would own it; District Energy would
operate it; and Rock-Tenn would be the major customer.
But in the report, none of those technologies
emerges as a clear-cut alternative to
refuse-derived fuel (RDF), proving there is no magic bullet to save Rock-Tenn.
"To get an economically feasible plant working at
Rock-Tenn, you have to have a certain amount of
RDF," said Anders Rydaker, the head of District
Energy, who has reviewed a draft of the report.
That likely will cause a fair amount of teeth
gnashing in the neighborhoods that have grown up
around Rock-Tenn since it was built in 1908. The
Green Institute's report was paid for by Ramsey
and Washington counties, Rock-Tenn, District
Energy, the Port Authority, the city of St. Paul
and Eureka Recycling and was intended to counter an earlier county study.
Many neighbors do not want refuse-derived fuel
burned there, and two of the three City Council
candidates running to represent the area have
come out against it. While backers say it doesn't
smell, there is a fear that is does, since it is
processed from household garbage.
Xcel Energy operates two refuse-derived fuel
facilities in the state, one in Red Wing, Minn.,
and one near Mankato, Minn. A spokeswoman for the
company said no complaints have been received in
connection with either of those facilities.
But that may not be enough to ease the fears of
Rock-Tenn's residential neighbors.
For years, the plant has been a good neighbor,
even striking a "good neighbor agreement" with
surrounding community groups. But the loss of its
steam heat because of Xcel Energy's High Bridge
plant converting to a natural gas facility
presents options that no one, not even Rock-Tenn, likes.
For one thing, until a new plant is built,
Rock-Tenn will be allowed to burn fuel oil to
fire its plant. It has always had the permit but
rarely has it fired up its boilers. Rock-Tenn's
permit allows it to pump almost 300 tons of
particulate matter into the atmosphere.
That's why everyone's searching for a better
option. But making it work is proving to be a challenge.
The Green Institute's report notes that wood
waste, which District Energy uses to fire its
downtown plant, is a limited source. Construction
and demolition waste is in need of further study
because the availability and the cost of
separating materials contaminated with lead and
arsenic from burnable materials is unknown.
Other options, such as burning farmed grasses,
have not been tried and likely would prove more
expensive than burning natural gas, which is itself becoming extremely pricey.
"I think there are some options out there,"
Rock-Tenn plant manager Jack Greenshields said.
"Whether it's a cost-effective alternative to RDF is another question."
It's apparent that using refuse-derived fuel is,
at the very least, going to take some convincing.
While the state officially considers it a
renewable resource, it's another matter at the street level.
"The neighbors don't seem to consider that a
renewable source," said Justin Eibenholzl, an
environmental coordinator for the Southeast Como
Improvement Association, a Minneapolis
neighborhood group. "If that's going to be
considered, I think there's going to have to be a lot of selling."
Whatever the final solution is, it likely will be
an outcome that represents a delicate balance of
community concerns, technological possibilities
and economics. But one thing everyone seems committed to is saving Rock-Tenn.
Not only does it provide high-paying jobs and, on
a daily basis, recycle 1 percent of all the paper
recycled in the United States, but the company
also pumps $75 million into the state's economy
in spending on goods and services, the Port Authority's Lorrie Louder said.
"We are not talking small potatoes. We are
talking about a huge economic benefit to the state of Minnesota," Louder said.
Jason Hoppin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-292-1892.
What it does: Processes half of all recycled
paper in Minnesota. Uses heat to turn paper and cardboard into pulp.
Losing steam: A source of cheap steam goes away
this summer when Xcel Energy shuts down its riverfront coal-fired plant.
Looking for heat: The firm is considering
building a heat plant fired by "refuse-derived fuel."
What it is: Processed household garbage.
Where it's used: Xcel Energy plants in Red Wing
and near Mankato and a Great River Energy plant in Elk River.
Odor: Some worry about the smell, but backers say it does not stink.
Pros: Takes what would ordinarily be headed for
landfill and uses it to produce energy.
Cons: Some environmentalists say waste should be
reduced, not counted on to produce energy.
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community residents who don't want an RDF burner, a type of...
converting their clean coal buring plant to natural gas, when...
believe that this issue is "fall out" from the "win-win"...
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