Midtown Energy project faces new challengesby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
A wood-fired plant proposed for south Minneapolis will get a closer look. After neighbors circulated petitions asking the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do a more thorough environmental review, the project's backers have volunteered to submit to the study. But this is only the latest problem for a project that's facing several challenges.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Midtown Eco-Energy would turn an old incinerator near Lake Street in Minneapolis into an electric generating plant, using tree trimmings and other wood waste.
At 24 1/2 megawatts, enough power for about 18,000 homes, the project slips under the threshold for a mandatory Environmental Assessment Worksheet.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency did some studies before it drafted a permit for the facility. The agency found the plant has the potential to emit 200 tons of smog-causing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides each year, and 56 tons of hazardous air pollutants, and 66 tons of particulate matter.
Carol Pass and some other neighborhood activists are worried about that.
"All you need is a temperature inversion to push it down to the ground," says Pass. "I mean, there are times when you drive in from the west of Minneapolis and the whole place is sort of a low-grade ochre color."
Pass is president of the East Phillips Improvement Coalition, the neighborhood organization where the plant would be located. She and others are especially concerned about the tiny particles the plant would emit. Some of them are so small, the government hasn't figured out a safe exposure level yet.
Back in July, her group, and a couple of other neighborhood groups, endorsed the project. They signed a so-called good neighbor agreement with the developers. As they learned more, they decided their neighborhood isn't the right place for it, Pass says.
"For a community with two asphalt plants, a foundry, a superfund site, with the arsenic triangle, and lead issues and a somewhat health-challenged population, and people that are too poor to go on ski trips out of the neighborhood, the air they breathe here is the air they will breathe all the time," she says.
Now, Pass says she'll actively oppose the project.
That's disappointing to Michael Krause, one of the developers. He says the East Phillips group changed its position without giving him a chance to defend the project.
"I guess we would be hopeful that over time, once they realize the truly benign environmental effects associated with this facility, maybe with new leadership in neighborhood, there might be a chance that we could bring them in again, on a good neighbor agreement," Krause says. "And we will certainly try to keep the avenues of communication open."
But the good neighbor agreement is just one of several problems the project is facing. The project still needs a customer for its power, and needs to get a commitment soon, says Gary Schiff, who represents the area on the Minneapolis City Council.
"There needs to be a power purchase agreement from Xcel or from some other utility for the energy to be produced by this facility," Schiff says. "As of now, there is no agreement, and if there is no agreement by March 30, then this deal will fall apart."
And without that agreement, Schiff says the next time it comes before the Council, he'll vote against it.
But the developer, Michael Krause, says he's confident he'll have the power purchase agreement by the March 30th deadline.
And he's submitted information to begin the new environmental review.
That will be done by the Pollution Control Agency. It'll could take about six months, and will likely factor in the emissions of as many as 40 trucks delivering fuel to the facility daily, which wasn't taken into account in the original permit process. It will also ask the question of whether there is enough fuel to keep the plant going.
- Morning Edition, 01/23/2008, 7:20 a.m.