When cities remove dead and dying trees that have been felled by storms or chewed apart from the inside by the dreaded emerald ash borer larvae, where does the wood go?
The answer, more often than not, is Environmental Wood Supply, a tree waste processing facility tucked across the Mississippi River from St. Paul’s downtown municipal airport. More than 170 cities in 22 counties, on top of 750 organizations, send their waste wood to the same St. Paul-based company, which converts 260,000 tons of trees each year into renewable “biomass” energy for two utilities — St. Paul District Energy and Xcel Energy.
The problem, according to county officials and state lawmakers, is that a key agreement between Xcel Energy and St. Paul Cogeneration — the District Energy affiliate that Xcel buys its biomass energy from — is set to expire in 2023.
District Energy CEO Ken Smith said he’s seeking a seven-year extension of the purchasing agreement to the year 2030, as well as an annual subsidy of $5 million from state lawmakers.
“We’ve been active at the Legislature for three years,” Smith said. “This will be our fourth legislative session. … If we’re not going to continue to do this any longer, other plans need to be put in place. … There is currently no other plan in place. There is currently no other facility.”