March meltdown ahead for Midtown Eco-Energy?

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As neighborhood opposition builds, Kandiyohi Development Partners faces a March 30 deadline on its option to buy the land for the Midtown Eco-Energy burner. The Minneapolis City Council, which extended the option a year ago, may not be so willing to grant another extension this year.

Kandiyohi Development Partners has run into strong community opposition to its plan to build an $83 million power biomass-burning generator in the East Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Kandiyohi, whose principals include Michael Krause, a past member of the Minneapolis Planning Commission, and Kim Havey, a former head of Minneapolis’s Empowerment Zone program, sought and received a commitment of $78 million in Empowerment Zone funding for their Midtown Eco-Energy Project. (Minneapolis City Councilmember Lisa Goodman is also an investor in the project.) Community opposition has focused on emissions from the proposed burner, in an impoverished neighborhood that already has multiple environmental problems.

Minneapolis City Councilmember Gary Schiff cited problems facing Kandiyohi as the March 30 deadline approaches. First, the company needs to have a power purchase agreement in place, with a buyer ready to purchase the electricity that the Midtown Eco-Energy burner would generate. Schiff alluded to “conflicting information” on whether such an agreement was in place.

Air Quality Issues
The Kandiyohi Development plans call for burning clean wood waste and woody plant residues to produce electricity and heat. The electricity would be sold to a power company, which would re-sell it to consumers. The heat, according to the plan, would be sent through a to-be-constructed network of pipes, possibly servicing the Abbott Hospital complex and the Midtown Exchange building.

The project would also need an air emission permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Community opposition has focused on public hearings on the permit, which has not yet been issued.

At this point, an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is not required by law to get the permit. The size of the proposed plant, 24.5 megawatts, is just under the 25 megawatts that would make an EAW mandatory by law. The MPCA can ask for an EAW if members of the public petition for an EAW and if the MPCA decides that the project has a potential for significant environmental effects.

For previous articles on the project, see:
Green fuel or green-washing? by Dan Gordon, TC Daily Planet

Neighbors blast proposed Phillips biomass plant at public hearing by Dan Gordon, TC Daily Planet

CNO supports petition for environmental assessment of biomass project by Eric Gustafson, Corcoran Neighborhood News

The public comment period for the MPCA air emission permit ends January 14. Questions and comments about the proposed air emission permit should be directed to Paula Connell, Senior Engineer, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155-4194, or paula.connell@pca.state.mn.us, or 651-282-2605. A copy of the draft permit and technical support document are available from the MPCA. Copies will be mailed to any interested person upon the MPCA’s receipt of a written request.

Councilmember Cam Gordon said that Kandiyohi Development Partners “were pretty clear at the public meeting December 13 that they didn’t have [a power purchase agreement]. They intimated they might be negotiating, but I’m not sure they are actually talking to anyone about it.”

The contract with the city also requires that Kandiyohi Development Partners have a “good neighbor” agreement in place with the East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC). Schiff noted that EPIC has terminated that agreement and is no longer supporting the project. “If they don’t have a good neighbor agreement,” said Schiff, “I don’t see how they are going to meet the options that they have.”

Craig Wilson of Kandiyohi Development Partners said on January 9 that the company has good neighbor agreements with East Phillips, Corcoran, and Longfellow neighborhoods, the Hi-Lake business association and the Friends of the Cemetery. He acknowledged that at least East Phillips and Corcoran have withdrawn their previous support for the Midtown project, but said they are still parties to “good neighbor” agreements.

Carol Pass, who heads the East Phillips Improvement Coalition, says that is not true any longer. “Our board has rescinded our support letter and that will include our signing of the good neighbor agreement,” said Pass. “We did not think – and I don’t think that a number of the neighborhoods thought – that the good neighbor agreement meant support of the project.”

Corcoran Neighborhood Organization has not withdrawn from its 2007 good neighbor agreement. Citing lack of consensus, its board voted in January not to support or oppose the project. The Seward Neighborhood Group board voted in January to seek an environmental assessment worksheet for the proposed Midtown Eco Energy biomass burner. Councilmembers Schiff and Gordon both said they backed calls for an environmental assessment worksheet.

In 2007, the city council voted unanimously to extend Kandiyohi’s option to buy for one year. Both Schiff and Councilmember Cam Gordon said they were not inclined to support another extension. “That [2007] extension was contingent on them being able to accomplish certain things within the time frame and they haven’t,” said Gordon.

Gordon acknowledged that an environmental assessment worksheet could not be completed by the end of March. “We don’t have to keep extending something over and over and over again,” he observed. “They could come back and get another one [option to buy].” Or, he said, the developers ” may realize that they can’t accomplish what they want to accomplish and it isn’t worth it to them.”

Pass said the project was very appealing in the beginning. “It was minimal carbon footprint, control over your own destiny, you’ve got a clean power plant … We weren’t told about the other footprints – sulfur dioxide and … the very fine particulate matter that comes out of there.” One thing she is sure of: “It’s not happening on my watch in this neighborhood.”

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