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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Environment - More on Tondu vote put on hold

Updating this ILB entry from Sept. 14th, the South Bend Tribune reports today that: "The next pivotal date in the saga of a Texas-based company's plan to build a coal gasification plant in St. Joseph County will come Thursday." More:

That day, members of the St. Joseph County Council will vote on whether or not to approve a special use permit for the $1 billion facility, which has garnered protest from area residents.

If the permit is approved, Tondu officials will still have to go through a permitting process with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, a process which company officials say could take up to nine months.

According to information from IDEM, "IDEM will review the application to ensure that guidelines for all health and technology based standards established by the U.S. EPA are met.

"The specific requirements of the air permit will depend on factors that have not been finalized, however the permit will identify all applicable air pollution control requirements, layout what is required to comply with those requirements and will contain monitoring, record keeping and reporting provisions to ensure that the facility is in compliance on a day-to-day basis." * * *

After all permits are approved, Tondu managing partner Jim Ford said, groundbreaking could begin within 18 months, with the plant online by 2010.

The South Bend Tribune also has a feature today by Adam Jackson on coal gasification, headlined: "Is coal gasification the fuel of the future? Dwindling oil supplies expensive." The long and informative piece concludes:
But is coal gasification the right thing, both for New Carlisle and the nation? There are plenty of arguments both in favor and against the concept.

Tom Sparrow, a Purdue

University professor who heads up the school's Center for Coal Technology Research, said coal gasification holds a lot of promise, including the possibility of using the process to create synthetic fuel for cars and trucks, as well as the potential to allow greenhouse gases created in the process to be sequestered and stored, preventing possible global warming.

But it also, he said, poses a lot of questions.

"I've been told that it is really hard to tell if you have removed all of the mercury from the gas stream," he said. "If you filled up the Astrodome with pingpong balls, it would be like trying to find the three pink ones mixed somewhere in the pile."

Other obstacles that coal gasification will have to overcome are economic. First, IGCC plants cost from 10 percent to 20 percent more to produce electricity than traditional coal-fired plants do, a difference that will show up on consumers' electric bills. Furthermore, it could be difficult to find investors who are willing to back the technology, especially after OPEC burned alternative fuel investors in the 1980s by flooding the market with cheap oil.

But the ultimate battle, Sparrow said, is to convince the public that they need it. Especially those members of the public who live and work near the plant.

"Everybody kind of knocks the ("not in my backyard") guys," he said. "But I'd be asking the same kind of questions.

"So, the question becomes: How do you convince people that this is the right decision to make?"

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 18, 2005 11:32 AM
Posted to Environment | Indiana economic development