KRC Statement Opposing Conditional Use Permit For Biodigester Posted: December 8, 2015
Mr. Chairman, members of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, my name is Tom FitzGerald and I reside at 1600 Dundee Way, Louisville, Kentucky 40205. I am here this evening in my capacity as Director of the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. to ask that you deny the request for a conditional use permit for Jefferson Anaerobic Digester #2.
Let me begin by thanking you for rescheduling the hearing to an evening hearing, in order to allow folks who could not take off from work, to be here to express their concerns.
There is a certain fatalism that I have encountered in meeting with residents of the California neighborhood and Louisville’s west end, that because the Fischer Administration supports this project, that this review process is merely a formality.
I have been before this Board several times over the years, and I have every confidence that this Board will decide the question before it on the merits, irrespective of what financial commitments may be offered to area colleges and without regard for the position of the Mayor’s office. I know that each of you takes to heart the stated purpose of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, as reflected in the bylaws, to “direct the economic growth and physical development of Louisville Metro and the communities therein” in a manner as to “assure the prosperity, health, safety, morals and general welfare of the county and its communities” and the function of the Board to plan and regulate “without favor or prejudice to any individual, group, class, race, or creed.”
As you know, a conditional use permit is a tool created under state law that enables a community to assure “the proper integration into the community of uses … which may be suitable only in specific locations in the zone only if certain conditions are met.”
Chapter 4.2 of the Land Development Code lists the categories of conditional uses. Among them is 4.2.37, under which this applicant seeks approval. 4.2.37 is captioned “Non-emergency Generator and Non-accessory Alternative Energy System.”
From the description of the project that has been provided, the facility will not be a “non-emergency generator,” since that term is defined as “[a] power generator used to provide supplemental power to a user requiring additional and/or sustainable power not normally available to the user from the local public utility. This type of generator does not include those used for emergency situations such as a loss of power due to unforeseen circumstances.”
This facility is not a power generator – instead, it proposes to convert organic wastes to methane that would be introduced into the LG&E system for sale rather than for use as a supplemental source of on-site power.
Nor does this facility fit under the definition of a “non-accessory alternative energy system,” which is defined as “[a]ny facility or installation such as a windmill, hydroelectric unit or solar collecting or concentrating array, which is designed and intended to produce energy from natural forces such as wind, water, sunlight, or geothermal heat, or from biomass, for on-site or off-site use. The off-site use shall not be for public usage, which would be deemed a Public Power Plant.”
The proposed facility is not producing energy; rather it is generating and cleaning a biogas that would be introduced into the LG&E gas utility pipe system for sale and end use either for combustion in a gas turbine creating energy in the form of electricity or by combustion for heating. It is clear from the distinction drawn in the definition of “alternative energy system,” which treats off-site public usage as a Public Power Plant, that the “alternative energy system” contemplated in the regulation is limited to alternative systems creating electricity, since the definition of a public power plant is “[a]n electrical power generation facility that, regardless of fuel or energy source, is operated by a public utility or independent power producer and whose primary function is the provision of electricity to the electrical distribution system or transmission grid.”
Since the project does not meet the criteria for a CUP under Section 4.2.37, the CUP application should be denied.
Instead, this facility falls under Section 4.2.42 as a “potentially hazardous or nuisance use” because of the accompanying hazards such as fire, explosion, noise, dust, or the emission of smoke, odor, or toxic gases.” The process will reduce the volume of solid waste by converting organic material into a gaseous form, and thus falls under the category of reducing wastes, which can only be located in an M-3 District and not an EZ-1 District. Additionally, the project will be creating a soil amendment that is a fertilizer and can only be manufactured in an M-3 District.
In any case that comes before this Board, you have a number of considerations in Chapter 11 of the Land Development Code against which you review a request for a CUP. The overriding consideration should be one of the incompatibility of the proposal with the residential areas nearby, in terms of height, bulk, scale, intensity, traffic, noise, odor, and appearance. While this proposal may make business sense to Heaven Hill, if it can off-load the stillage to Nature’s Methane for less expense than disposing of it in the MSD system, and to Nature’s Methane, if they can generate enough gas to secure a contract that will provide renewable energy credits that they can sell and make enough from the acceptance of Heaven Hill’s and others wastes, the proposal simply does not make sense for the residents who live nearby. Many of the problems that arise under nuisance law and in planning and zoning controversies occur where there is an abrupt shift from a heavy industrial to a residential land pattern, and the imposition of an industrial footprint of this size and nature within 120 feet of residential properties is a recipe for future problems.
I have had several conversations with the proponents of this project, and have conducted an extensive review of the literature concerning the Monsal/GE advanced anaerobic digestion technology that the proponents seek your approval to construct on the property. After such review, and in consideration of the location, the scale, mass, and potential off-site impacts of the project, it is clear that the proximity of the facility to nearby homes makes it an unsuitable location.
A comparison of the location of the only other anaerobic digester that any of the principals in Nature’s Methane have managed – the two digesters at the Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana, which NM COO Mark Stoermann formerly managed, and that of the four proposed biodigesters at 17th and Maple, reflects a stark distinction between the sparsely populated surroundings in Fair Oaks (with the closest neighbors being two homes, each located some 2,000 feet away from the facility) and the 17th and Maple location, where there are some 23 homes within 800-feet of the facility. The Staff Report notation that there are “some” residences to the north-east understates the abrupt transition from industrial to residential use across the street and alley, and it is the lack of buffer to attenuate any odors, noise, or other operational problems, that makes this location inappropriate. The applicant’s representative can try to minimize the significance of the residential properties by calling it a “minor pocket of residential use,” but those homeowners and renters are just as entitled to the peaceful use and enjoyment of their properties, and to the protections intended in the Land Development Code as if they resided in Indian Hills or my Highlands neighborhood.
No process of converting organic wastes to biogas is without potential problems, whether from failed or clogged biofilters, from leaks or spills during product transfer, upsets in the digestion process, or from leaks of odorants that will be intentionally introduced into the gas prior to feeding the gas into the LG&E system. With every vent or stack to the outside air, with every valve, seal, and flange, there is a potential for odors, and according to the information supplied by Nature’s Methane in response to questions that I posed, there are several points in the process where venting to outside air of methane and other products and byproducts of the process could occur, including a flare for flaring off surplus gas and a discharge stack associated with a biofilter for odor control.
You have been told that at some future point, the Air Pollution Control District will review the proposed project and issue a permit imposing controls on odors. Ask the residents of Butchertown neighborhoods how effective APCD has been in ameliorating odors from JBS Swift.
There are a number of specific concerns regarding the proposal that would need to be addressed if the CUP were to be granted, such as limits on hours of operation; a prohibition on acceptance of off-site liquid wastes by truck except during prolonged scheduled production shutdowns at the distillery; clarification of the business relationship and liability of GE and of Jefferson Digester II for any off-site property damage or personal injury, or for environmental violations, maintenance of adequate levels of casualty insurance, among others. But to raise those suggests that a proposal of this scale and nature could be made compatible with homes and residential uses simply by imposing certain conditions or planting a few trees. Unfortunately, in this location, that is not the case.
Neither state nor local zoning regulations have in place specific regulations governing industrial-scale anaerobic digesters. Until adequate standards are in place to assure that all inputs of waste and outputs of products, byproducts, and impurities that are removed from the generated biogas are fully accounted for so as to prevent off-site impacts to other land uses, the requested Conditional Use Permit should, respectfully, be denied.
With respect to the Mayor’s support for this project, this project would have a marginal impact on the Mayor’s solid waste diversion goals, and a marginal impact on methane release, since the waste solids are currently treated by an AD process at the MSD Morris Forman Plant and the Outer Loop Landfill, which receives the MSD residuals, has methane capture and control.
Councilman James reminded me that the original location of Rev. Louis Coleman’s Justice Resource Center was immediately across the street from the proposed facility. Rev. Coleman would be appalled by this proposal, and by the Mayor’s support for imposing this industrial use across the street from residential properties. I respectfully request that you deny this application for a conditional use permit.