Biomass: Information for Facilities
There is increasing interest in using biomass as an energy source in Minnesota. Due to variability in biomass materials, and in the type and size of biomass facilities, several sets of rules and regulations may apply to a given project. As new policies are developed for biomass facilities, they will be posted on this Web page.
The MPCA Small Business Assistance Unit has published a guide to assist small businesses in working through the permitting and environmental review process. Each chapter begins with a flowchart to help determine if a permit is needed or not. It can be accessed as either the whole document as a PDF, or as individual chapters. The guide also includes a list of sources for loans, grants and clean-up reimbursement funds.
The MPCA, along with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Employment and Economic Development, Transportation, and Commerce, developed a guidance document for assistance in planning to build an ethanol facility in Minnesota. While the document is written for ethanol facilities, the sections on environmental review and permitting may also be useful in planning to build a biomass facility, or for that matter any type of industrial facility.
- Planning and Constructing an Ethanol Plant in Minnesota: A Guidance Document (file size = 1.8 MB)
Minnesota is unique among Midwestern states in mandating environmental review for certain types of projects. The environmental review process in Minnesota looks at how a proposed project could potentially affect the environment and ways to avoid or minimize impacts before the project is permitted and built. Environmental review can be a one or two-step process—the shorter, less detailed Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) or the longer, more complex and detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The environmental review process operates according to the rules of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), but is carried out by a designated local government unit or a state agency. For industrial projects such as biomass facilities, as well as many other types of projects, the MPCA leads the review.
The goal of an EAW is to provide the public with a multi-program analysis of a proposed project's environmental effects. Once an EAW is written, it is put on public notice for a 30- day comment period, during which the public or any interested party may ask questions and provide written comments on the proposed project or identify any other environmental issues which may have been overlooked. Following the public comment period, the project manager for the EAW responds to written comments and works together with MPCA staff to write the Findings of Fact. For most projects, the EAW provides adequate information to determine potential impacts. If more information is needed, the review process may proceed to an EIS. The EAW project manager makes a recommendation to the commissioner on whether an EIS is needed. If an EIS is deemed not necessary, and there is no request for an EIS during the public comment period, the environmental review process is complete and the facility may pursue issuance of any required permits. If an EAW is controversial or there are formal requests for an EIS, or if any of the comment letters are controversial, the EAW is likely to brought before the MPCA Citizens’ Board for a the Board’s determination on whether an EIS is required.
Proposed new biomass facilities, or any modification to an existing facility, which have the potential to generate 250 tons per year of any regulated air pollutant are required to complete an EAW. An EAW is also required for any electric generating plant with a capacity of 25 to 50 megawatts, or for a facility which is converting a material to a fuel, if it has the capacity to utilize 25,000 tons per year or more. An EIS is mandatory for any electric generating plant with a capacity of more than 50 megawatts, or a fuel conversion facility with a capacity increase of 250,000 tons per year.
A more complete description of the environmental review process and the requirements included is located at the MPCA’s Environmental Review Web page.
Recently, the MPCA has developed guidance on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint analysis. Proposers of projects that must complete environmental review and require an air-emissions permit are asked to prepare a carbon footprint as part of their environmental review. Biomass project proposers should contact the MPCA to discuss development of life cycle analysis for individual projects. Additionally, if a project requires environmental review and completion of an Air Emissions Risk Assessment (AERA), an evaluation of the project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be completed and submitted with the air permit application. The following documents provide guidance.
Financial assistance programs for biomass project proposers include the following:
Environmental Assistance Grant Program - consists of a competitive, two-stage application process used to identify and assist projects that will be most beneficial in furthering the MPCA’s mission of working with Minnesotans to protect, conserve, and improve our environment and enhance our quality of life, particularly within the focus areas identified each fiscal year.
Small Business Environmental Improvement Loan Program - provides low-interest loans to small businesses to finance environmental projects such as capital equipment upgrades that meet or exceed environmental regulations, and costs associated with the investigation and cleanup of contaminated sites.
Environmental Assistance Loan Program - allows the MPCA to award up to a maximum loan of $100,000 at zero percent interest. Program guidelines call for loan funds to be matched by a minimum dollar-for-dollar match (1:1) by loans from a participating financial institution.
It’s important to begin considering permitting issues such as air emissions control technology, source-water quantity and quality, and discharge-water quality and quantity, among other factors, while still considering potential sites and other variables for the proposed project. This consideration should begin well in advance of application for environmental review. Though the review and permitting processes may proceed concurrently, no permits can be issued for a facility until environmental review is complete.
The first step is to determine if an air emissions permit is required, and if so, what type of permit your facility will need. Information on air permitting can be found at All About Air Permits. Other information, including an Air Quality Permit Guide, can also be found at Air Permits. One of the challenges with obtaining an air permit for a facility using biomass is to calculate the emissions from burning the biomass. The MPCA and others are currently working on developing a database of emission factors and data from various types of biomass. A report titled Emission Factors for Priority Biofuels in Minnesota has some information on emission factors.
The MPCA has developed guidance on permitting requirements when a facility is considering using solid materials other than fossil fuels in a combustion process. That guidance is available here in the document below. This guidance is subject to change when EPA finalizes rule changes for the definition of solid waste.
- Solid Waste and Air Quality Permitting Requirements for By-Product and Biomass Material in a Combustion Process
If you will need water appropriations permits for your facility, visit the Department of Natural Resources' Water Appropriations Permit Program Web site. If a facility proposes to discharge any process or non-process wastewater, it must apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit for the discharge. For more information about water-quality permitting forms, visit MPCA's Web page for water permit application and forms.
Stormwater permitting requirements are based on a facility’s SIC code and are included in the individual NPDES/SDS permit for a facility (if it has an NPDES/SDS permit); the permit regulates both the industrial wastewater discharge as well as the stormwater discharge. Facilities that have only a stormwater discharge (e.g., discharge wastewater to another treatment facility) must still apply for coverage under the General Industrial Stormwater Permit. For more information about the MPCA’s stormwater program for industrial activities, visit the Stormwater Program for Industrial Activities Web site.
If discharges are proposed to be routed to another permitted facility, such as a municipal wastewater treatment plant, any permit modifications of the existing facility must be completed prior to any new permits being issued to the biomass project.
Most tanks located above ground containing liquid substances (i.e., not gaseous or solid at ambient temperature and pressure) are subject to the MPCA’s rules for design, permitting and operation of aboveground storage tanks (ASTs). Tank appurtenances such as piping, valves, containment areas, and loading areas are also covered. Definitions in the rules can be found at Minnesota Rules, Chapter 7151.1200
More general information on aboveground storage tanks can be found on the AST Web page.
Ash material produced from the incineration of biomass fuel is an industrial solid waste under the MPCA’s solid waste rules found at Minn. R. Ch. 7035. Because it is an industrial solid waste, the ash needs to be managed appropriately. The ash material will either need to be landfilled at a permitted landfill that is approved to accept ash material or need to obtain a case specific beneficial use determination from the MPCA for any proposed utilization of the ash material for an engineering or agronomic purpose. Information on the MPCA’s utilization of solid waste program can be found on the program’s Web page.
The MPCA’s main training Web page offers a number of training events, certification programs, and conferences. Some of this training may be applicable to the biomass industry.
It is important to take compliance issues seriously to avoid potential enforcement issues and monetary penalties. A proactive approach is the best way to achieve a healthy environmental compliance program at your facility.
How to maintain compliance
One of the best ways to maintain compliance with your MPCA permits is to carefully read through and make sure you understand the permit requirements. If conditions and terms are confusing, please ask questions of the MPCA compliance staff assigned to your facility; they can be of great help in providing assistance. It’s also helpful to keep your records organized and up-to-date, make the records available for inspections, track due dates, and ensure employees are trained so that required documents are submitted in a timely fashion.
Learn more about the types of enforcement tools the MPCA uses on the EnforcementWeb page.