Who’s on First? Keeping track of the players

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Taxpayer and power company, public and private, corporate and government—stakeholders come in all types, shapes and sizes. Rock-Tenn, the recycling company that is “a victim of good public policy,” is clearly the player with the most at stake in finding a new fuel source for its operations. But by the time that fuel source is identified, built and operating, every resident of Ramsey and Washington counties will be directly affected, with long-term implications reaching even farther afield.

The Burning Question: coal, garbage, biomass and sustainable energy

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Friday: Re-fueling Rock Tenn: environmental and economic challenges
Saturday: Who’s on First? Keeping track of the players
Sunday: Following the money: who pays and who profits
Monday: Garbage or green energy: a look at the issues around RDF

Rock-Tenn corporation, the 500 employees in its St. Paul paper recycling plant, and the people who depend on them to recycle more than half of Minnesota’s paper waste need a new energy source because Xcel’s High Bridge plant will convert its fuel source from coal to more environmentally-friendly natural gas this summer. For more than 20 years, the High Bridge plant has supplied the steam to power Rock-Tenn’s recycling operation.

Rock-Tenn is really two players – the recycling plant in St. Paul and the corporate headquarters in Georgia. St. Paul managers made the case to corporate headquarters that it is worth paying the costs of an interim energy source (fuel oil and natural gas) and working out the details of a long-term energy source that will be economically and environmentally sustainable. A strong showing of support from the city of St. Paul and from Ramsey and Washington counties helped make their case to corporate, as did promises of financing assistance from the St. Paul Port Authority.

The St Paul Port Authority, with a mission of job creation and retention, is solidly behind building a new energy plant on Rock-Tenn’s 42-acre campus. According to Lorri Louder at the Port Authority, “We intend to finance, construct and own this power plant facility. They shut down their carton folding plant about 3-4 years ago and we lost about 300 jobs. It is our purpose to prevent this facility and all its great jobs, with a starting wage of about $18 an hour, from leaving.” As a public agency, the Port Authority can issue bonds to finance construction of the new facility, and private investors (individuals, mutual funds, pension funds) will purchase the bonds.

Ramsey and Washington counties and the city of St. Paul are equally determined to keep Rock-Tenn operating. They, too, want to keep Rock-Tenn’s jobs here, but they also have an interest in finding a market for the municipal solid waste (MSW). All of the leading players currently focus on refuse-derived fuel (RDF) as the fuel to be burned at the power-generating plant that will be sited at Rock-Tenn. The two counties are part of the area-wide Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, which has developed a hierarchy of priorities in waste management. That hierarchy ranks disposal of MSW by incineration as preferable to disposal by burying.

Resource Recovery Technologies (RRT) runs a processing plant in Newport, MN that converts municipal solid waste (MSW) to refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The RRT plant gets municipal solid wastes from Ramsey and Washington counties, which subsidize its operation. RRT contracts with Xcel Energy to deliver the end product—RDF—to Xcel’s power-generating plants in Mankato (Wilmarth) and Red Wing.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) must approve any new energy plant at Rock-Tenn, and has already approved the company’s plan for burning fuel oil and natural gas on site. MPCA procedures include an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), which may be followed by a more detailed Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Foth & VanDyke is a consulting firm that has prepared a detailed report on the feasibility of an RDF power-generating plant at Rock-Tenn. The 100+ page report was prepared for Ramsey and Washington counties. Another report, due in July, will focus on non-landfill options for disposal, processing and use of construction and demolition waste (C&D).

The Green Institute, a non-profit environmental organization, is conducting a study of biomass fuel options other than RDF. The study, sponsored and paid for by Rock-Tenn, Ramsey and Washington counties, the City of St. Paul, Eureka Recycling, and the St. Paul Port Authority, will be completed later in March. While discussion among the major players has focused primarily on RDF, with some consideration of C&D wastes, the Green Institute study will look at urban wood waste, agricultural residues, dedicated energy crops (e.g., grasses), agricultural milling residues and forest residues.

District Energy and its subsidiary, Market Street Energy, operate St. Paul’s downtown district heating and cooling systems, and will operate the energy-generating plant at Rock-Tenn.

And then there’s the rest of us—people who live near Rock-Tenn, community activists and advocates, environmental organizations, taxpayers, generators of recycled paper and of municipal solid waste. A citizen advisory committee, currently being set up by Rock-Tenn and District Energy, will have some, as-yet-undefined input into the decision-making and planning processes. After Rock-Tenn decides what direction they want to take, they still face a lengthy process of applying for and negotiating the necessary environmental permits. Citizen input will come both through Rock-Tenn’s advisory committee and through the permitting process, and community councils and other groups will be involved.

The time frame for decision is now relatively short. Jack Greenshields, the manager of the St. Paul Rock-Tenn operation, hopes for a decision by the end of May, though others predict July as a more likely date.

Tomorrow: Following the Money looks at the costs associated with producing energy for Rock-Tenn and who will pay, directly and indirectly.