In April of 2000, the Minnesota legislature voted to include poultry litter as biomass in its mandate that Minnesota utilities generate 125 megawatts of electricity using wind power or biomass. Fibrowatt had already developed three poultry litter fired electricity generating plants in the United Kingdom when it began looking to develop similar projects in the USA. Shortly after Minnesota amended its statutes to include poultry litter as biomass, Fibrowatt, LLC, formed a subsidiary, Fibrominn to head up the company’s efforts to build a plant in Minnesota.

In August of 2000, Fibrominn signed an agreement to sell the output of its power plant to Xcel Energy, Inc. But the $202 million to finance the Minnesota project wasn’t secured until 2004 was drawing to a close. The Benson plant began operations in mid-May of this year, and it will generate 55 megawatts, enough power for about 60,000 homes. Around 700,000 tons of biomass will fuel the plant; around 90 percent of the total fuel will be poultry litter.

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Fibrominn’s plant is the first in the country to burn poultry litter. Fibrowatt is considering building other poultry litter fired plants in Maryland, North Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi. Earth Resources, Inc., plans to have its chicken litter-burning plant near Carnesville, Ga., operational next summer. This 20-megawatt project drew a $29 million loan guarantee from the Rural Utilities Service, a federal agency within the Department of Agriculture.

Even with the run-up in the cost of fossil fuels, poultry litter purchased from the grower for around $5 per ton generates electricity at costs which are 30 to 50 percent higher than those of coal fired plants. Ultimately, consumers will pay higher rates for electricity to fund these projects, unless fossil fuel prices rise even higher.