NIMBY reversed

Community rallies around Powers Energy One
By Holly Jessen | December 27, 2010
Many ethanol producers have heard the cry of "not in my backyard" (NIMBY). Fortunately, naysayers aren't the only ones who speak up. Powers Energy One of Indiana, a 42 MMgy garbage-to-ethanol plant proposed for Lake County, Ind., has seen its share of controversy in the past year. After three untroubled years in development, the project was attacked in the local media with a campaign of rumors and lies, says Gerry Scheub, Lake County commissioner. The ringleaders were some of the media itself, a small group of politicians and an area landfill, which is set to lose business should the plant become reality. At a public meeting in November the ethanol plant's supporters attacked back. Of about 400 people attending the meeting, at least 380 were supporters, Scheub tells EPM. The supporters cheered before the meeting started and some carried signs that read "Garbage to Ethanol vote YES." Some were from Schneider, Ind.,-the smallest town in the county with 300 residents-where the $254 million ethanol plant is to be built. Before it was selected as the location for the ethanol plant, the town held a public meeting, during which an "overwhelming majority" signed a petition in favor of the ethanol plant, says Richard Wright, a member of the town and Lake County Solid Waste Management District boards. It was four years ago when Scheub first met Earl Powers, chairman and CEO of Powers Energy of America Inc. Lake County was looking for a 20-year waste stream solution and Scheub was, and is, very enthusiastic about the idea of converting waste into ethanol, or, as he puts it, turning garbage into a commodity. The county commissioner would like to do something about this country's addiction to foreign oil, which has contributed to the national debt as well as resulting in the deaths of many U.S. soldiers. "I think that's wrong and I would love to be somebody who is reversing that," he says. Job creation is behind much of the support from Lake County residents. Once completed, the plant will employ 250 people for an average of $18 to $20 an hour, Scheub says. Constructing the plant will bring in another 500 workers. It would also solve a waste management issue for Lake County. Current tipping rates for garbage disposal are $38 to $43 a ton, with rates expected to rise to $49 a ton in 20 years, says Jeff Langbehn, executive director of the solid waste district. Tipping fees at Powers Energy One start at $17.50 a ton and go down to $17.25 once input exceeds 2,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) daily. The plant will turn garbage into ethanol, recycle metal and glass leaving a small percentage of MSW to be landfilled. On top of all that, the plant will generate income for local governments. Schneider, the host community, will get 3 cents for every gallon of ethanol produced at the plant, says Clifford Duggan, attorney for the solid waste district. For every ton of MSW processed at the plant, the solid waste district will receive $2.50, of which 90 percent will be distributed to cities in the district based on the number of households per community. Finally, the county will receive taxes from Powers Energy One. "Not bad, huh?" Scheub asks. The project underwent serious scrutiny before getting this far, Langbehn tells EPM. After review by the solid waste district board, it was turned over to an engineering firm, a university and an accounting firm for examination. Langbehn himself has seen the technology at work during five visits to the INEOS Bio pilot plant. "There has been an enormous amount of study to see if this thing does what they say it does," he says. Alas, those who have set themselves against the project aren't interested in hearing about the positives. "They're just interested in being negative," Scheub says.