Northern Minnesota Project Offers Insights on Community-Driven Sustainable Bioenergy

Feasibility studies in two communities can inform other investigations


(MPLS, MN) - Dovetail Partners, a Minneapolis-based environmental think-tank, has completed a study of biomass energy opportunities in two communities in Northern Minnesota. Working with the University of Minnesota, the studies done for Grand Marais/Cook County and the City of Ely investigated several alternatives that can help inform other community’s actions on bioenergy.


“Many communities and businesses are interested in using locally-grown forest biomass to produce renewable energy,” said Kathryn Fernholz, Executive Director of Dovetail Partners. “This project produced objective information on a range of factors: local wood supplies, optional technologies, financial performance, emissions and environmental impacts, and supply chain opportunities and hurdles. Putting a team together to consider all these factors is one of the strengths of our organization.”


“The study team investigated dozens of configurations – from large district heating or combined heat and power to small systems for individual homes or businesses,” said Cheryl Miller, Project Manager. “We found that there are many different approaches to utilizing biomass for energy that result in different trade-offs and benefits. Businesses and communities may be interested in looking at our study results when considering their options.”


Project funding was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), and by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and the USFS Wood Education and Resource Center. The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in theprotection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.


Collaborating project partners are the Cook County Board of Commissioners and the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP); the City of Ely and the Ely Alternative Energy Task Force (AETF). Researchers included Dr. Dennis Becker (University of Minnesota Forest Resources), Dr. Steven Taff (UMN Applied Economics), and Dr. Jim Bowyer and Dr. Steve Bratkovich of Dovetail Partners. Engineering expertise from LHB, Inc in Duluth, FVB, Inc in Minneapolis, and Wilson Engineering Services from Meadville, PA contributed. Local coordinators were hired in each community to support stakeholder and citizen engagement throughout the project.


“The project took a fresh approach to imagining diverse bioenergy systems that could fit the Minnesota situation, we also focused on what it means to pursuecommunity-driven sustainable bioenergy,” says Fernholz. “By working closely with the community and structuring the project around their interests, we were able to keep them in the driver’s seat.”


The project was started in 2011 and the final reports were presented at community meetings in December 2012. The next steps in the project include sharing the results statewide.


Project reports and other information are available at the Dovetail Partners website ( The results of the project will be shared at various conferences and workshops in 2013, including the Heating the Midwest conference to be held April 25-26th in Carlton, MN (




About Dovetail Partners

Dovetail Partners provides authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives. Dovetail is a highly skilled team that fosters sustainability and responsible behaviors by collaborating to develop unique concepts, systems, models and programs. Dovetail Partners is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.