Not easy being green

A proposal for a green power plant has raised concerns about what “green” means.

A new proposal for a green power plant in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis has raised the ire of local residents. The proposal is for a wood-burning, electricity-producing utility near Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. The Midtown Eco Energy project claims it would provide enough electricity for 15,000 homes and would be primarily powered by the burning of wood left over from tree trimming and storm damage. The neighborhood is concerned about an increase of pollution in a part of town that has dealt with more than enough pollutant issues.

In Minneapolis, the Phillips neighborhood is all too familiar with exposure to pollution. It was in this neighborhood that a pesticide factory used to spew arsenic into the surrounding air. Today, the community is still dealing with the cleanup and has elevated levels of arsenic in its soils.

Although the developers of Midtown Eco Energy claim there is plenty of clean tree waste to burn, the permit issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency allows for the burning of plywood, particle board and other types of slightly processed wood products (painted wood and some other treated types are not permitted). Many citizens are most concerned by the permit’s allowances for emissions of arsenic, mercury, formaldehyde and small particles of ash.

Certainly green technology is not always going to be free of emissions, and this new proposal would generate less pollution than a similarly sized coal plant. But is the need for such a plant great enough for such a plant to justify the impacts on local residents? The people of Phillips have yet to recover from previous environmental damage, and they are justified in their sense of unease. Any project that uses combustion will result in emissions, and although not completely clean, the Midtown Eco Energy plant would be an improvement over existing fossil fuel plants. However, the need for such a plant seems unnecessary and would only bring more environmental stress to a community that has dealt with enough.