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Proposed grants would turn emerald ash borer-infected trees into biomass fuel

Emerald ash borer infestations have been devastating to ash trees around Minnesota, leading to millions of diseased trees being removed.

Those trees have to go somewhere, and a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) would help support processing of the infested trees.

“This is an issue that needs to be addressed regionally and before the volumes of wood waste grow with the advancing ash disease epidemic,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt.

HF3749 would establish a grant program through the Department of Agriculture, appropriating $6 million from the Renewable Development Account annually through Fiscal Year 2023. The money would be used to process diseased trees removed from public land in Xcel Energy’s coverage area and turn them into heat and renewable energy at the St. Paul Cogeneration facility.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee laid the bill over on Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF3577, sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), is awaiting action by the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

How big is the problem?

Preliminary analysis shows there are at least 2.9 million ash trees in the seven-county metro area, which will result in at least 1.67 million tons of wood waste requiring disposal due to emerald ash borer infestations, Reinhardt explained.  

But counties are very limited on where these infected trees can be disposed. Laws prevent diseased trees from being landfilled or thrown in the trash, and if they’re turned into mulch, the mulch has to stay within a quarantined area, Reinhardt said.

Turning all that wood waste into biomass fuel is one way to address disposal needs and it helps curb the spread of emerald ash borer, said Jeff Guillemette, who testified on behalf of Ever-Green Energy, which works with the St. Paul Cogeneration facility.

Over the last five years, Guillemette said tree waste from more than 115 communities has been collected and turned into biomass fuel, noting the amount of waste has been increasing over the years as emerald ash borer spreads.

 


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