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December 2, 2012

On the cutting edge? Officials say trash power project a big deal

Miller: ‘This project is unlike anything Cass County has experienced.’

LOGANSPORT — Those involved in the decision to pursue a $500 million project to generate electricity from trash pellets say the project could put Logansport in the spotlight.

Todd Miller, president of Myers Spring and a member of the Logansport Utility Service Board, said the scale of the project was unlike anything Cass County has ever experienced. He predicted that people from other areas would be coming to the public hearings in Logansport to learn more about the project.

“This half-a-billion-dollar project is going to receive worldwide attention,” Miller said. “If it would work, it would fundamentally change economic opportunities in Logansport.”

Former State Sen. Tom Weatherwax agreed, saying the city couldn’t pretend Environmental Protection Agency regulations weren’t going to affect Indiana.

“Other manufacturers will be looking at this community,” Weatherwax said. “Logansport has its act together.”

Former Mayor Mike Fincher was among those who turned out for a question-and-answer session Wednesday night with the city’s team of consultants. He said the cost of the project concerned him, but he said that because the project wouldn’t happen without private funding, cost would be less of an issue.

Fincher, who said the city had looked into such a project previously, added the city might want to be concerned about putting all of its eggs in one basket. He said city leaders might want to ask themselves what would happen to the supply of trash pellets 20 years from now if the idea of burning trash pellets were to become commonplace.

He noted, though, that at least in the beginning the proposed project would keep rates low, which is important.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind with this,” Fincher said. “At the meeting on Wednesday night, there were unanswered questions, but that is bound to happen with the project being this early in the process.”

Miller said city leaders needed to ask themselves “why not?”

LMU has lost nearly $4 million in the past three years, utility service board members said, so it cannot remain on its current course. They noted that the utility also faces the likelihood that EPA regulations will eventually bar it from the continued use of coal.

“I think it should be emphasized to the public that, without any doubt, the power plant is being shut down, so the options are purchasing all Logansport’s energy, and seeing an increase in rates, or building another power plant,” Miller said. “It’s not going away overnight, but I don’t think people understand that.”

Connie Neininger, president of the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation, said she was a strong supporter of renewable energy.

Indiana as a whole generates 95 percent of its electricity using coal, Neininger said.

“We do need to look at alternatives,” she said. “I commend LMU and Logansport for looking into other opportunities.”

Neininger said the fact Logansport is looking into the project is progressive.

“I think it’s a sign Logansport is looking into the future,” Neininger said. “We cannot continue to do things the way we have always done them.”

Miller said he thinks the project is a start and he thinks both Hartman and the team of experts hired are all sincere.

“My only concern is what the ultimate lease is going to look like if we get someone to comply,” Miller said. “Right now, our plant is not so fantastic that we should be extra diligent.”

The Utility Service Board voted last week to issue a request for proposals from companies willing to invest in such a plant. The proposals are due in January, and the team of consultants hope to make a recommendation in February.

Weatherwax said he was excited about the project and was looking forward to more public questions being answered as the proposals come back.

Amie Sites is a reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5150 or amie.sites@pharostribune.com.

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