Biomass: Information for Citizens
Biomass facilities in Minnesota are widely varied. A large combined heat and power facility burning wood as biomass may require environmental review and a federal air emissions permit, whereas a small facility, such as a school, which burns biomass for heat generation may require only a registration permit. The facility size, type, and production process are some of the factors that will determine the permits needed and if environmental review is necessary. This Web page provides a basic understanding of how biomass facilities are regulated from an environmental standpoint.
Biomass is any organic matter made from plants or animals, and includes forestry and agricultural residues, agricultural crops, animal wastes, aquatic plants, municipal and industrial wastes, and crops grown solely for energy purposes.
Various types of technologies allow biomass to be converted into commercial energy, providing a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, or through processes such as gasification, to be converted into chemicals or biofuels.
Environmental review provides an analysis of a project’s potential effects on the environment. Depending upon the type of biomass facility project that is proposed, environmental review may be required. If an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) is required, this document will examine a number of elements including air quality, water quality, water quantity, noise, traffic, solid waste, and cumulative impacts from the proposed project. The EAW and EIS Web page provides information about projects that currently have an EAW or EIS on public notice. This page also includes projects that were recently on public notice. You can also find more general information about the environmental review process on the Environmental Review Web page.
Permits establish specific limits and requirements to protect human health and the environment. They are issued for a specific period, usually five years, after which they expire and must be renewed. Permits are regularly reviewed and updated as they expire, allowing the MPCA to incorporate new information about the impacts of pollutants to the environment in subsequent permits. The MPCA has developed several guides to help people gain familiarity with permitting. Biomass facilities in Minnesota, depending on their type and size, may involve air, water, and waste permits.
New biomass facilities generally require air permits before construction and operation. New biomass projects may involve modeling and air emission risk analysis (AERA) as part of the air permit process. The type of modeling and analysis to be used for an individual project can depend on a variety of factors including the proposed facility's fuel source, proximity to people and businesses, the type of equipment to be used, and the type of feedstock.
Existing biomass facilities may require modifications and updates to air permits. Major permit modifications are required to be placed on public notice. If an air permit for a project is currently on public notice, it can be found on the Public Notices Web page. A basic introduction to air quality permitting can be found at All About Air Permits.
Federal regulations may also apply to facilities in Minnesota. The following links provide information from the U.S. EPA to help understand how the air permitting program operates at the national level.
- Air Pollution Operating Permit Program Update: Key Features and Benefits – An air permitting overview of who, what, and how.
- Air Permit Programs – Federal permits that may apply in Minnesota.
Biomass facilities may require individual industrial National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)/State Disposal System (SDS) permits that include industrial stormwater requirements.
The U.S.EPA has a primer for NPDES permits called “Water Permitting 101.”
Public participation is an important part of the environmental review and permitting processes. Involvement by citizens can occur in many ways. For new projects, citizens can review EAWs (if required), draft permits, or speak to the MPCA Citizens’ Board if the project is presented to the Board. Citizens may provide information, comments, or ask important questions regarding individual projects or policy concerns. Citizens can also contact the MPCA with questions about proposed and existing facilities. Public comment opportunities for existing facilities may occur for permit modifications or with expansions. For some of these projects, public meetings might be held to answer questions or to provide project information. Public notice periods for permits or EAWs are typically 30 days.
How to comment
Environmental Review. If you are interested in commenting on a specific environmental review project when the MPCA is the responsible governmental unit, you should submit those comments in writing to the MPCA project manager listed in the EAW or EIS when it is placed on public notice. If you would like to know who the environmental review project manager is for an MPCA EAW or EIS, contact Mary Osborn, 651-757-2101.
Air Permits. EPA has prepared a document that addresses Clean Air Act Title V air permits, which includes information and guidance that can be useful for citizens who want to comment on any MPCA action. In particular, Chapter 5 addresses how to write an effective comment letter. The Proof is in the Permit, How to Make Sure a Facility in Your Community Gets an Effective Title V Air Pollution Permit
NPDES/SDS Permits.Biomass facilities may be required to have an NPDES/SDS permit for discharge. The MPCA places these permits on public notice for 30 days when a new facility is proposed or an existing facility makes changes to an individual permit. Permit changes that would require public notice include modifications to discharge volume, discharge type, discharge location, and other major changes.
- Information from EPA on citizen involvement and public comment is available online at: U.S. EPA information on citizen involvement and public comment
The MPCA’s files are open to the public (subject to the restrictions of Minnesota statutes and decisions of the Office of the Attorney General). Persons wishing to review files are asked to schedule an appointment with the file manager. For review of biomass air quality files contact Kelli Stiles at 651-757-2755; for biomass environmental review or water quality files contact Mary Dezurik at 651-757-2307 or Lenny Richards at 651-757-2667. For additional information or guidance visit the Information Request Web page.
How to get involved with the MPCA Citizens’ Board
The MPCA Citizens' Board considers and makes decisions on varied and complex pollution problems that affect Minnesota. These decisions are intended to protect state’s water, air and land resources in order to provide for the maximum enjoyment and use of these resources by Minnesotans. The Board’s regular monthly meetings are on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the MPCA’s St. Paul office. Board meetings are public and interested parties may sign up to address the Board on specific decision items. For more information about the Board or for upcoming agendas, contact Vicki Schindeldecker at 651-757-2025 or visit the Citizens' Board Agenda Web page.