The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a Rural Business Development Grant to fund a feasibility study to evaluate converting a coal-fired power plant into a waste-to-energy transportation fuel production facility. Partners in the project include the City of Becker, Minnesota, where the power plant resides, Wenck and VONCO. The idea was created after Xcel Energy announced plans to phase out two of its three coal-fired power generating units at the Sherburne County Generating Station (SHERCO) sometime after 2023.
“Rural small businesses have a significant influence on the economic success of rural America,” said Minnesota State Director for USDA Rural Development Colleen Landkamer. “This funding is just one of the many steps USDA has taken to promote economic development, encourage job creation, and support infrastructure in rural communities.”
SHERCO currently employees 350 people and provides 70 percent of the city’s tax levy. As part of future of the power plant, Xcel has announced plans to replace existing generating capacity with a new natural-gas combined cycle unit and solar installation. Once completed the facility will only require only a fraction of the labor to operate. It is anticipated approximately 150 full-time jobs at the plant may be lost as a result of the unit shut-down. Therefore, one of the areas the feasibility study will evaluate is new employment opportunities along with financial augmentation for existing community businesses and industry diversification.
Becker City Administrator Greg Pruszinske said the city is committed to creating a prosperous local and regional economy by encouraging sustainable ventures that would result in job growth.
Erin L Heitkamp, Global Sustainability Practice Leader for Wenck, underscored the economic opportunity that the biofuels project represents. “There is a community and regional need for economic growth and diversity, and this project represents a perfect opportunity to capture the full value inherent in waste organic materials through the creation of jobs, economic growth, and environmental benefits.”