Mayor opposes importing trash to fuel plant

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – A proposed biomass facility won’t be using out-of-town waste to create renewable energy if Mayor Joseph Peterson has anything to say about it.

“This is not a dump zone,” he said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Members in August unanimously approved a letter of understanding with Environmental Generation Technology Advisor LLC to develop an alternative renewable energy park on part of the city-owned property at 4800 Central Ave.

The original biomass fuel proposed by EGTA was junk automotive “fluff,” which company officials described at the time as nonrecyclable automotive material from junkyards, including tires. They recently sent a 43-page document outlining plans for the facility to City Engineer Mark Kowalewski.

In it officials raised the idea of also possibly importing garbage into the city to power the facility. Kowalewski mentioned that possibility at the end of Monday’s council meeting from EGTA to city officials.

Peterson expressed his concern, telling residents he would keep imported municipal solid waste out of the city and hold a televised public hearing before any carbon-based waste is brought in from out of town to fuel a biomass renewable alternative energy electrical generation plant.

Carbon-based waste comprises once-living things like wood, rubber, plants and coal, while “municipal solid waste” refers to organic trash and sewage. Biomass gasification takes carbon-based waste and turns it into a gas at high temperatures. That gas then is used to fuel electrical generators.

Plans discussed by city and EGTA officials call for Wyandotte Municipal Services employees to have access to all renewable energy facilities, and for the city to agree to buy power from the company. The move would enable the city to receive federal renewable energy tax credits for electricity generated at the biomass plant.

But first, there’s the matter of what will be used to power the new facility.

“I hit the brakes,” Peterson said after being told of plans in the recent document that mention hauling in garbage by rail. “I want nothing to do with garbage coming into our city.

“(EGTA) need(s) to get back in front of the council and the public and get it out here on TV and tell us exactly what they plan on doing.”

Peterson and council members said much of their concern stems from the potential for foul odors emitted into surrounding neighborhoods.

“If (garbage) sits in the south end on the railroad tracks for up to 80 days,” the mayor said, “that’s going to get pretty ripe if it’s not treated. And even if it is treated, I’m not sure it can sit there for 80 days without smelling.”

Councilman Leonard Sabuda said he had been under the impression that EGTA could utilize city-generated sewage for fuel.

“I just think we should get more information about this whole operation as to what is going to take place, what we can expect when they open the door and they start this operation,” he said, “and I don’t have that.”

“This whole project was presented to this mayor and council right here in an open forum,” Councilman Todd Browning said, “and I believe any changes should be presented in the same format.”

Kowalewski said EGTA’s recent plans also included an invitation to city officials and employees to tour one of its biomass plants in Ontario next month.

Peterson said he’d rather visit such a facility in the summer than winter, when cold temperature lessens any odor from the biomass fuel.

“You’re not going to get the true test of the nose in the middle of January,” Peterson said.

Councilman James DeSana said he believed most council members were not familiar with either the issue or the technology.

“I think what I hear all of us saying here is that we’re not interested in moving forward until we have a better understanding of what it is, rather than relying upon someone else telling me what it might be,” he said.

Under Michigan Public Act 295, by the year 2015 all the electric utilities in the state will be required to meet a renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent renewable energy.

Municipal Services was one of three recipients in the state to be awarded an energy system award grant for a biomass demonstration project. The grants were announced in November 2009 by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.