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Meeting gives ins, outs of biomass

August 26, 2009
An informational meeting about biomass plants, jointly hosted by Crawford County Farm Bureau and Crawford County Extension Service last Thursday evening, was attended by about 70 persons, the majority of whom, according to the T-shirts worn by many, were members of the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, a group opposed to construction of a plant just north of Milltown.

The meeting, at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo, was advertised as an opportunity to "provide factual information about biomass plants similar to the plant proposed in the Milltown area." Scheduled presenters were Purdue University, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Forestry.

At the beginning of the meeting, opened by Crawford County Farm Bureau President Don Cook and moderated by Indiana Farm Bureau's Justin Schneider, an announcement was made that the Purdue presenter, Dr. Klein E. Ieleji, was not able to be present, but Jim Ade, Crawford County's Extension director, gave a short PowerPoint presentation prepared earlier by Ieleji. The presentation centered on co-firing, a method of combining coal and biomass to fire boilers at biomass plants.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources District Forester Mike Coggeshall spoke next and said that most sawmill waste (sawdust), supposedly a main source of fuel for the proposed biomass plant, was already being utilized.

"A biomass plant would be in competition for this product," he said. "And there's only so much available."

He said that with all the logging that takes place in the region, there are tree tops in the woods that could be made into fuel for a plant.

"But there's a problem with efficiency," he said. "It's almost impossible to get tree tops out without destroying the woods. Pulling whole tree tops out, which can be up to 50 feet wide, is difficult without causing a lot of damage. I don't know how economical it would be to extract tops that way. If a person is clear-cutting a woods, it would be no problem. And clear-cutting may be feasible if the woods was under bad management before, but it's something we're not in favor of because of how it may affect the landscape."

Doug Wagner, an environmental specialist with IDEM, spoke next about air pollution and the amount that can be released by a particular source.

"There are more than 2,000 sources in Indiana that are required to have an air permit," Wagner said. "A source will usually submit an application to IDEM with a list of equipment to be installed. Then, IDEM calculates the amount of air pollution the equipment will emit in 24 hours. This determines the type of permit to be issued."

He went on to say that IDEM often gets pollution information, not from a plant, or source, but from the manufacturer of the equipment to be used by the plant.

"The applicant will provide us with emission factors," Wagner said. "Boilers, for instance, have been tested, and the manufacturer can supply that information. And the source will do stack tests to determine the emission rate."

Wagner said that tests would be run after the plant is in full operation for 180 days.

"Then, the source (company) would do tests daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly," Wagner said. "And they would also be responsible for record keeping."

Jeff Harmon, another IDEM spokesman who deals mainly with land permits, said an application for a permit from Liberty Green Renewables LLC, the company that wants to construct the biomass plant near Milltown, had been received by his office.

"It came in on Monday this week," Harmon said. "But we already have about 60 applications pending, so I haven't looked at it yet. We send out a public notice when the application is received. A notice will be printed in your local paper, the Clarion News, within the next two weeks. A copy of the application will be available at two locations: our office and the Crawford County Public Library in English. It will be available on our Web page, in our virtual file cabinet. If you go to the Web site, look at the top right-hand corner and type in the number 50660127; this should take you to the application.

"We will consider all comments and will also consider the laws. We have both compliance and enforcement abilities and deal with contamination and the protection of groundwater and surface water protection, how far the source is set back from waterways and sinkholes. We look at every application seriously, in-cluding this one," he said. "Again, we don't know what's in this one yet; we haven't looked at it."

Questions from the audience were only accepted on cards that were distributed, filled out and turned in before the meeting or during a break.

One question asked if anyone from IDEM had seen or walked the site of the proposed Milltown plant. The IDEM representatives re-sponded that they haven't, and probably wouldn't walk the site before making a decision on the permit.

"We may or may not come out," Wagner said. "If there's a complaint or concern, we may. But there's really no reason to."

Another question asked if the plant would impact the price of local firewood.

"It certainly wouldn't lower the price any," Coggeshall answered. "I'm sure it would raise the price to some degree."

When asked why Liberty Green representatives were not invited to be a part of the meeting, Schneider responded that the meeting wasn't set up to be pro or con on biomass, just to share information.

When asked if the proposed Milltown plant would run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Schneider said the plant would be there to produce electricity and that once the electricity is put in the grid at a certain level, the grid expects it to continue.

"They need a constant source of power," he said.

Asked if the plant could change fuel sources, Wagner said yes, but a new permit application would have to be submitted.

A question on another card asked if there could be a public vote on the plant.

"Probably not," Schneid-er said. "What zoning says is usually what happens. There are no regulations here."

Schneider went on to say that Farm Bureau was in favor of biomass, due to the possibility of a future market for farm-produced fuel.

Another question asked, "How can biomass be considered 'clean,' considering the amount of CO2 emitted by the process."

"We don't regulate CO2," Wagner said. "We don't have any regulations to even consider carbon dioxide a pollutant."

Wagner also pointed out that emissions will only be tested by IDEM every five years, and that the plant itself would do compliance monitoring in between the five-year checks.

"It's somewhat an honor system," he said. "I know five years is a long time, but I have a lot of faith in source compliance monitoring."

When asked if IDEM can refuse a permit if residents don't want the plant, Wagner said no. If the source meets IDEM requirements, the permit will be issued, he said.

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