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CVEC to pay $120,000 in penalties over allegations involving gasifier

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Morris Sun Tribune
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BENSON -- Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company of Benson will be paying $120,000 in fines to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of an agreement over alleged violations involving its first-of-a-kind gasifier system.

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The company reported Tuesday that the MPCA has accused it of unclear record keeping and tardy performance testing of its regulated emission control equipment. The primary focus of the agreement is a self-reported incident in which an unallowed feedstock was included as fuel for the gasifier.

According to CVEC, it reported to the MPCA that what likely amounted to one adulterated, eight-foot long, two-by-four had been chipped and shredded into a 20-ton load of wood used as fuel in the gasifier.

"CVEC agrees with MPCA that this should not have occurred,'' said CVEC General Manager Mike Jerke in a statement announcing the stipulation agreement with the agency. "We do not agree with the magnitude of the penalty.''

The company said it agreed to pay the civil penalty to put the matter at rest, but that if "strongly disagrees'' with the conclusions drawn by the MPCA.

The agreement requires CVEC to pay $70,000 in cash and submit a proposal for a supplemental environmental project for at least an additional $50,000.

"CVEC cares deeply about being a good steward of the environment. That philosophy is part of our culture. While missing a set calendar date for a stack test or having unclear records may not have a direct adverse impact on the environment, it is nonetheless, unacceptable. As a company, we expect better,'' stated Jerke.

The company's gasification system is the first of its kind and has won the company attention for developing biomass fuels. The gasifier uses corn cobs harvested from the fields of CVEC members as well as wood scraps to produce a natural gas substitute to fire boilers at the plant. The process reduces the reliance on fossil fuel and reduces the carbon footprint of the plant.

The company said its own voluntary testing of the biomass char left after gasification led the company to conclude that one of its wood suppliers had shipped a load that contained some adulterated wood that had been painted or treated.

CVEC alerted the MPCA to the adulterated wood event and concluded that the amount of adulterated wood amounted to one, two-by-four. The company said it took steps to mitigate the issue and is convinced that there was no appreciable impact on the environment.

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