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MPCA holds Ethanol Hearing

Fri, May 25th, 2001
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Monday, May 28, 2001

In response to letters and a petition submitted by twelve local residents, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) held a public information meeting last Tuesday evening on the expansion of the Pro-Corn Ethanol plant in Preston.

Pro-Corn, Inc. has applied to the MPCA to expand its production from 22.5 million to 50 million gallons per year. The MPCA held an original comment period from March 20 to April 18, but reopened the public comment period on May 22 in response to the concerns received from the petitioners. The current comment period will run to June 1.

At Tuesday nights hearing, John Chikkala, Air Permit Engineer with the MPCA St. Paul office, addressed the questions raised in the petition about air emissions from the new expansion.

According to Chikkala, the expansion at the ethanol plant will include the addition of new "scrubbers," pollution equipment that, through the use of water, helps reduce the amount of particulate matter that is introduced into the atmosphere. Pro-Corn is voluntarily replacing its existing scrubbers and also adding new scrubbers on the emission stacks.

The plant will also construct a taller emissions stack to disperse the emissions over a broader area. At the end of the expansion project there will be a total of 11 tall and short emissions stacks.

Mr. Chikkala also stated that, at this time, the MPCA staff believes that the facility will be in compliance with the state and federal air quality regulations after the expansion. Ethanol plants are required to conduct air emissions testing and send the reports to MPCA staff for review and verification.

The original petition that prompted the Tuesday evening hearing dealt specifically with concerns about air pollutant emissions and odors. Emissions from the plant include Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen Oxides (Nox), and Carbon Monoxide (CO), as well as Particulate Matter (PM).

The MPCA threshold for VOCs is 100 tons per year, and the Pro-Corn estimates show that after completion of the expansion, the plant VOCs emissions will go from 37.84 tons to 99.3 tons per year.

The MPCA engineer also noted that the Nitrogen Oxide emissions would increase from 30.65 tons to 97.0 tons per year. Carbon Monoxide emissions will increase from 25.7 tons to 81.5 tons per year. Mr. Chikkala stated that all emission estimates would be within the current federal Clean Air Act standards.

Following Mr. Chikkalas presentation, Rhonda Land of the MPCAs Air Quality Enforcement office discussed the issue of odor that was addressed in the citizen letters.

According to Ms. Land, the scrubbers that Pro-Corn will install have been found to be effective in reducing odors, but not in eliminating the odors. She also stated that raising the height of the stack is "somewhat effective" in reducing concentrated odors through the dispersion of the odors over a greater area.

The letter sent to the MPCA had addressed the location of the plant on a hill above the City of Preston, and noted that, "prevailing winds drive emissions directly down into the valley where people live, work, and play."

Again, Ms. Land addressed this concern with the proposed taller stack, and stated that the scrubbers would reduce the emission of VOCs and Particulate Matter, which in turn should reduce odors. However, Land also stated that there is no guarantee that the odors will go away.

The primary emissions from the plant are methanol and ethanol, both of which Land noted are considered irritants. Methanol is known to irritate the eyes and skin, while ethanol is known to irritate the eyes, skin and lungs. However, Land stated that the emissions of both methanol and ethanol would be at levels the MPCA considers to be safe.

This informational meeting was presented to a packed room of citizens, most of whom sported stickers in support of Pro-Corn. At the end of the meeting, local corn producer Jim Simonson, President of the Pro-Corn Board, thanked the citizens for attending the meeting and presented the MPCA officials with a petition signed by 574 people in support of the Pro-Corn ethanol plant.

The MPCA will conduct a second public meeting on June 7 at the Methodist Church in Preston, to present the comments received during the additional comment period.

By Mike McGrath

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