Green energy proposal being considered in west central Minnesota

Pipeline planned for transporting natural gas from Riverview digesters

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BENSON, Minn. — Dooley’s Natural Gas of Willmar has filed an application with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission as part of a plan to construct a 28-mile, renewable natural gas pipeline system. 

The pipeline would run in Swift, Chippewa and Kandiyohi counties in west central Minnesota and transport gas from manure biodigesters at four Riverview LLP dairies in the area. The application for the project, slated to cost $13.9 million, has been accepted by the PUC and is now being considered.

Martha Koehl, a communications representative for Riverview, said the manure biodigesters are being constructed at the farm sites by Amp Americas, a company based in Illinois.

“We are excited about the prospect of continued economic development in western Minnesota and the opportunities that a pipeline project brings,” Koehl said.

The Minnesota PUC has been asked to permit a part of the plan that involves a compression station to be constructed on a parcel of land near Murdock owned by Dooley Natural Gas. 

The gas would be compressed there and injected through a roughly 100-foot high-pressure pipeline into the already existing Alliance Transmission Pipeline that runs through the area. 

The Alliance Transmission Pipeline would be responsible for tapping its existing line and installing the needed gas measurement equipment at the compression station. The Alliance Transmission Pipeline system runs from western Canada to Chicago.

The rest of the planned Dooley’s Natural Gas pipeline would be low-pressure and transport natural gas produced from the manure biodigesters at the Riverview sites to the compressor station. 

The low-pressure pipeline must pass approval at the county and township levels, which is dictated by the county that maintains jurisdiction over the road right of way in which the pipeline will run. 

Approval of the pipeline plan also involves other entities, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety Construction and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, among others.

The four Riverview sites for the digesters are Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock in Kandiyohi County, East Dublin Dairy near Murdock in Swift County, Swenoda Dairy near Montevideo in Swift County and Louriston Dairy near Murdock in Chippewa County. 

Dooley Natural Gas stated in its application that the project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the four Riverview sites by 907,064 tons per year. The company is aiming to have the pipeline in service by August.

A series of public information sessions about the project have been offered in Swift, Chippewa and Kandiyohi counties. The Swift County Board of Commissioners and the Minnesota PUC hosted a joint meeting at McKinney’s on Southside bar and restaurant Jan. 30 in Benson. About 40 citizens gathered to hear from the staff of the Minnesota PUC and representatives from Dooley’s Natural Gas.

Randy Dooley was one of four representatives of Dooley’s Natural Gas who spoke at the meeting.

“We’ve been working on this project for the better part of three or four years now, and it’s finally getting some traction,” Dooley said. “We’re hoping to get (construction) up and running by the spring of this year.”

Dooley’s Natural Gas owns and operates over 300 miles of natural gas pipeline, Dooley said. Two of their pipeline systems in west central Minnesota — one commissioned in 2012 and the other in 2014 — cover five counties, nine communities and over 2,000 customers.

At the Jan. 30 meeting, Nathan Runke spoke on behalf of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which is a construction union of workers who take part in energy infrastructure projects in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“After our conversations with Dooley representatives about their contracting and workforce plans, we are very confident that their plan will ensure the project is well-built by workers from our area who will be paid family-sustaining wages and benefits,” Runke said.

Local resident Elaine Mitteness asked about the existing and potential odors from the Riverview sites where the digesters are being located.

“Is this going to improve the stench that we get on these dairies or is it going to make it worse?” she said.

Dooley said that the manure biodigesters at the farm sites would be handled by Amp Americas and Riverview. Amp Americas is a customer of Dooley’s Natural Gas.

 Marcus Raines, a member of the audience, identified himself as a millwright who has constructed digesters for Excel, wastewater treatment facilities and other sites. He responded to the question about odor.

“The smell is going to get a lot better because the methane will be captured in the digester,” Raines said. “I’m not speaking on behalf of Amp Americas. I’m just speaking as a millwright who has constructed these facilities before.”

Swift County Commissioner Larry Mahoney asked for confirmation that transporting the gas produced will not involve trucking at any point in the plan. Dooley said that no trucks will be involved and that all gas produced will be transported by the pipeline.

Area resident Brent Jaenisch asked about property values.

“Since there will be a pipeline going essentially through my front yard, what is that going to do to the value of my property?” he said.

Dooley said he believed the project would not hurt property values and could possibly increase them.

“I would look at (the project) as a positive because there is a possibility of (properties) hooking up to natural gas,” Dooley said. “It’s all about how close you are to the current system because you can’t justify running 2 or 3 miles of pipe for a small user or a limited amount of throughput, so if there is any impact to your property, it would be positive.”

However, Dooley and others on the panel said that gas hookups to homes would have to come later because the gas running through the proposed system would not be refined enough for home use. Gas that runs through the pipeline, like that running through the Alliance Transmission Pipeline, will be rated as hot gas and will need more refining before it can be used in homes. It can be used for agricultural purposes such as in grain dryers, however. Gas in the Alliance Transmission Pipeline passes through three plants where it is used in the production of ethanol.

“We remain hopeful that someday we can (refine it for home use),” Dooley said.

According to an article by KMRS/KKOK Radio in Morris from May 7, 2021, Amp Americas has digesters at three Riverview sites in Stevens County. The digesters capture around 700,000 gallons of manure each day for converting into renewable methane which is purified into renewable natural gas.

The proposal by Dooley’s Natural Gas has some groups in opposition, namely Clean Up the River Environment of Montevideo and Land Stewardship Project, both of which asked for public information meetings to be offered. However, no identified members of these groups asked questions or spoke during the Jan. 30 session.

Public comments on the proposed project will be accepted through Feb. 16 and can be made at mn.gov/puc by selecting “Get Involved.” 

All parts of the PUC application by Dooley’s Natural Gas can be viewed at mn.gov/puc/edockets/. 

Cesar Panait, of the Minnesota PUC, who is the lead for the application’s process, said a final decision about the permit is planned in April.

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