The proposed agreement between City of Logansport and a private developer to continue to operate the City’s aging municipal coal-burning power plant is likely to be environmentally harmful. It may also be an economic boondoggle for Logansport and its citizens.
SGP Energy, the private developer, has been using terms such as “renewable power” and “environmentally friendly” to describe its proposal to burn a mixture of coal and fuel pellets at the power plant and sell power to the city for the next 20 years. On behalf of the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental advocacy group with more than 7,500 members in Indiana, I would urge Logansport to take another look at these claims.
Burning fuel for energy is responsible for much of Indiana’s air pollution. Continuing to burn coal and waste pellets for energy is neither environmentally friendly nor renewable. According to the manufacturer, these waste pellets contain up to 40 percent plastics, which is neither renewable nor clean-burning by any common-sense definition. Even worse, an agreement between the City and SGP requires the parties “to maximize the usage of coal,” even while their public message has focused on the so-called renewable pellets.
The Sierra Club supports truly clean sources of energy such as solar and wind power and energy efficiency, and would have serious concerns over any plan to burn coal or other fuel at a central power plant located in a residential neighborhood. Coal contains many dangerous impurities, such as mercury, which poisons local waterways and makes fish unsafe for young women and children to eat.
Our Beyond Coal Campaign, which monitors the status of every coal-fired power plant in the nation, is not aware of any other power plant owner that has successfully pursued this type of risky coal-plus-pellet fuel mixture to meet a federal clean air safeguard. At best, SGP’s proposal is entirely untested and requires a leap of faith by the city, with the city bearing the much of the risk if the plant cannot ultimately meet clean air safeguards that go into effect in January 2017. Coal-fired power plants that are nearly 60 years old should be retired, and not retrofitted with experimental technology.
Residents also should be concerned about the one-sided nature of the proposed agreements between SGP and the city. Under the proposed Build, Operate, and Transfer agreement, SGP may terminate the agreement at its own discretion, while the city may only terminate the agreement with permission from SGP. The city also must hold SGP harmless for certain claims arising under the agreement, with no corresponding requirement that SGP protect the city. Under a separate, interim agreement, the city must pay for the materials (including coal and fuel pellets) necessary to test SGP’s environmental compliance strategy, even if the tests ultimately fail. The city also must purchase 80,000 tons of fuel from SGP at a set price, even if the city could procure cheaper fuel elsewhere or doesn’t need the fuel at all.
The Sierra Club seriously doubts that the project, as proposed, will ever prove to be either economically viable or environmentally sustainable. At times like these, it would be wise to remember the old Better Business Bureau catchphrase, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Jodi Perras is the Indiana representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign at Sierra Club