Wood-burning power plant seeks new Minneapolis home


A weekend report that developers of the proposed Midtown Eco-Energy power plant had given up on putting a wood-burning power plant in the East Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis raised cheers among neighbors whose initial approval had turned to opposition. But the story’s suggestion that the project might move to southeast Minneapolis raised eyebrows and hackles among residents there, who stand ready to raise hell if the idea proves more than a passing thought.

Steve Brandt’s Saturday Star Tribune story cited City Council Member Gary Schiff as saying Kandiyohi Development Partners had suggested the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area as a new site for the burner. That was after the developers announced they were throwing in the towel on a city-owned site in the East Phillips neighborhood. The proposal there had drawn neighborhood opposition as well as a new bill that Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law targeting the project for special state studies on cumulative effects of pollution.

But by suggesting a new site in southeast Minneapolis, developers stumbled into a place where one cumulative effect of decades of pollution is organized opposition to more of it. The Prospect Park neighborhood has weathered many long struggles with polluters, including a battle with the American Can Co. that ended in one of the city’s earliest Good Neighbor agreements between residents and industry.

Nearby, the Southeast Como neighborhood has had its own environmental coordinator, Justin Eibenholtzl, on staff for seven years. Over that time Eibenholtzl set up an online inventory of industrial sites, helped lead the successful effort to get Xcel Energy to switch from coal to gas at its Twin Cities riverside plants, and recently snagged a McKnight Foundation grant to establish Como as a “Green Village”—a plan Kandiyohi’s project would be at odds with.

It wouldn’t fit the city’s plan for the SEMI area (PDF, 6.8 MB) either, according to Jim Forsyth, senior project coordinator at Community Planning and Economic Development Department (CPED). SEMI also lacks city-owned property that might make it a match for the East Phillips site. Both sites do, however, lie within the city’s Empowerment Zone, a federal job-growing program that Kandiyohi’s Kim Havey once led for the city. Havey’s ties to Minneapolis government, as well as those of Kandiyohi principal Michael Krause (a former city planning commissioner) and investor Lisa Goodman (a current City Council member), led to media reports (Daily Planet, Strib)that in turn led the city to look for gaps in its ethics policy.

The latest news of the project’s potential relocation took residents by surprise. “People will get fired up,” promised Eibenholtzl, a veteran environmental battler who said keeping Kandiyohi out of SEMI is one fight he hopes will go away on its own. “I hope this [project] will die its 1001st death,” he said.

In an interview today, Schiff told Minnesota Independent he wouldn’t support a SEMI location. City Council Member Scott Benson, who also attended Kandiyohi’s Friday meeting with Schiff, told the Minnesota Independent on Monday that the way he remembered it, SEMI came up in conversation as containing land with the increasingly rare industrial “I-3” city zoning, but he downplayed the significance of its mention and denied that the city was offering new sites as a quid pro quo for Kandiyohi dropping the Midtown plan. The meeting, Benson said he gathered, is one of a series Kandiyohi has set up with City Council members. Kandiyohi didn’t return a request for comment for this story.