Bill could throw monkey wrench into burner plans

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2008 - 12:02 AM

The measure, on Gov. Pawlenty's desk, would require more study of cumulative pollution in the neighborhood.

A bill awaiting Gov. Tim Pawlenty's signature appears to make it harder for a biomass energy plant proposed for south Minneapolis to meet city deadlines.

A provision inserted by area legislators requires extra study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency before it could issue a permit for the Midtown Eco Energy burner proposed in the Phillips neighborhood.

The bill would require the agency to analyze past and current pollution from all sources in the area of the burner. That's a change from normal environmental review based only the emissions of the proposed facility.

Agency officials on Tuesday were unable to estimate yet how much time the requirements might add to the permitting process. But a permit wasn't expected to go to the agency's board for consideration until this summer, and opponents of the facility could contest the permit then.

An option deal under which the city would sell land for the facility requires the facility's owners to obtain all government permits by October.

"The gist of the bill is a vital step forward for how environmental permitting happens," said area Council Member Gary Schiff, who has come out against the facility. He said that case-by-case analysis of pollution sources fails to consider the overall impact on a community.

Kandiyohi Development Partners, which is proposing the facility, said it is still evaluating how the legislative requirement would affect the timeline.

Craig Wilson, a principal in Kandiyohi, said Tuesday in an e-mail statement that the city should consider factors such as the state permitting process as it views its land sales option agreement with Kandiyohi. Schiff said that Kandiyohi asked on Tuesday for a meeting with three council members.

The city already has declared that Kandiyohi hadn't met one of the conditions it set for the developer to exercise its land option, which it attempted to do in late March. That condition required Kandiyohi to obtain a commitment from a utility to sell electricity that the plant will produce by burning wood and other biomass. The city has moved to cancel the deal unless Kandiyohi produces such a commitment next month. The developer has been negotiating with Xcel Energy.

Agency staffers had said at a public hearing that plant emissions will meet acceptable risks, but opponents say that adding contaminants to the arsenic and lead-laden Hiawatha-Lake area isn't acceptable.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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