Statement: Made by city on Jasper Clean Energy Project

Editor’s note: The following is the statement made on behalf of the city by Wayne Shuetter, utility board president, on Monday, May 20.

Statement on Jasper Clean Energy Center Project

The City’s decision to lease the power plant to Twisted Oak Corporation to develop the Jasper Clean Energy Project continues to be a topic of discussion and misinformation, including the information being disseminated by the group opposing the project.

As you are aware, there is ongoing litigation which alleges that the City failed to follow proper Open Door procedures for a selected few meetings in connection with the Jasper Clean Energy Project. This litigation, however, does not address or contest the decisions of the Utility Service Board and City Council to approve moving forward with the lease of the power plan to Jasper Clean Energy.

The City of Jasper has continued to take actions to move the Jasper Clean Energy Center forward. Recently, an article about the project was released by co-authors Dr. Kristin Shrader-Frechette and B.N. Kunycky at Notre Dame University. After the Shrader-Frechette and Kunycky article was released, the City of Jasper reviewed the article as part of its ongoing due diligence. The City has identified several concerns about the article.

It should be noted that, by the authors’ own admission, the article is a commentary, not a scientific study. Therefore, the conclusions of the article are the opinions of the authors. It should also be noted that the authors included a statement that seems to be a disclaimer when in their conclusion they stated “If the preceding arguments are correct”. To assess whether their arguments should be considered correct it is necessary to examine what information they are using as the basis for their opinions and how accurately they have interpreted that information.

The Shrader-Frechette/Kunycky article makes references to Twisted Oak Corporation’s 2010 proposal as the basis for the article but does not reference the contents of the final negotiated lease agreement signed in 2011. In fact, the article implies that the final terms of the lease agreement were redacted and have been withheld from the public. This is completely inaccurate. The entire lease was posted on the city’s website for citizens to review and comment upon before any vote was taken. After Jasper’s City Council and Utility Service Board voted 13 to 1 to approve the lease it was again made public and the signed lease can still be found under the Utility Service Board link on the city’s website.

(http://www.jasperindiana.gov/images/contentimages/aehcq4dn6.pdf)

This omission is very significant because the signed lease agreement strictly governs the development and operation of the Jasper Clean Energy Center. For instance, the lease agreement contains conditions that will have to be met before this project can become a reality. These conditions, referred to as “condition precedents”, will involve scrutiny of the project by many different entities that will not be chosen by the City of Jasper, Twisted Oak Corporation, or the opposition group. Some of these entities will include the environmental regulatory agencies, the power market and the potential miscanthus growers.

Even if these condition precedents are met and the Jasper Clean Energy Center is constructed, there are still numerous other conditions and restrictions in the lease agreement controlling the operation of the Jasper Clean Energy Center. Failure to follow any of these restrictions or conditions could result in the lease being voided by the City. For any evaluation of the project to be considered accurate it must include a knowledge and understanding of the contents of the lease.

The Shrader-Frechette/Kunycky article also cited various scientific studies to support their conclusions. The accuracy of the authors’ interpretation and application of the studies’ data would impact the accuracy of their conclusions. The City contacted three scientists whose studies were cited by the authors to see if they agreed with the accuracy of the article’s interpretation of their work.

One of these scientists is Dr. Emily Heaton at Iowa State University who has done extensive research on the growing of miscanthus. When responding to the article’s statements about miscanthus needing 76.2cm of rainfall per a seven month growing season, Dr. Heaton stated: “Miscanthus needs 60cm of rainfall during the growing season to achieve its biomass potential. If more is available, it will use it, which helps us in the Midwest with seasonal flooding. It can lead to low water tables, and thus Miscanthus is not an appropriate crop for arid areas, though it does produce more biomass per unit of water than many other biomass crops.”

Another cited study was entitled “Impact of nitrogen allocation on growth and photosynthesis of Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus)”. The City contacted one of the co-authors of this study, Dr. Dandan Wang at the University of Illinois. Her response to Shrader-Frechette/Kunycky’s article was, “Their interpretation ”˜In addition, US government reports say Miscanthus always needs fertilization’ is not accurate based on my paper. I never saw any statements like this is Miscanthus studies. There are studies that Miscanthus achieved high yield without fertilization for more than 10 years. However, Miscanthus did respond to fertilization, as in my study that 50kg/ha nitrogen increased Miscanthus yield compared to control plots, but more nitrogen (100,200kg/ha) did not increase Miscanthus yield compared to 50kg/ha.”

And finally, both the Shrader-Frechette/Kunycky article and the leadership of the local opposition group have referred to Dr. Christopher Shaddix’s comments about the use of the herbicide atrazine in his evaluation of the project. Dr. Shaddix, who has done research on combustion, emissions, and biofuels, for more than 20 years was hired as an independent expert by the City of Jasper to review the Twisted Oak proposal. Dr. Shaddix responded to the criticism of his statement about using atrazine on miscanthus by stating, “Regarding my reference to the use of atrazine, here is the sentence in question in my report: ”˜Competition from weeds can be a major problem during the 1- to 3-year establishment period of the Miscanthus, but recent success with the well-known and low-cost herbicide atrazine is promising.’ The sentence clearly is talking about the existing field studies of using herbicides during the initial establishment of Miscanthus, and notes that there has been success when using atrazine. This is the result of published studies and is not making any judgement as to whether any particular locality should choose to use atrazine vs. any other herbicide of choice.”

It should also be noted that at no time has Twisted Oak Corporation stated that miscanthus growers will be required to use atrazine to control weeds. As stated in the Shrader-Frechette/Kunycky article, there are other herbicides that are effective that can be used. Item 9 in Exhibit 18, in the lease, requires the miscanthus growers to adhere to sustainability guidelines and protocols in the establishment, growing, harvesting, and storage of fuel. In other words, any restrictions or regulations concerning the use of herbicides and fertilizers and other aspects of growing the miscanthus will have to be followed. And suppliers will be required to keep records that will be audited to ensure that these requirements are being met.

Because the authors did not incorporate any terms of the signed lease agreement into their review, and their interpretations of these scientific studies were less than completely accurate, it would seem logical to conclude that their arguments are then not completely correct.

On another issue concerning accuracy, it is troubling that the opposition continues to use misinformation or perhaps even disinformation to influence the public opinion about the project. A prime example is that the group insists that the fuel for the vehicles used to transport the miscanthus to the facility will be diesel and that the emissions from these vehicles have never been addressed by the City. The fact is that Exhibit 18, Item number 8 in the lease specifically identifies that the fuels to be used by the transportation vehicles will be low emission fuels such as natural gas and ethanol. There are too many other examples of misinformation and disinformation that the opposition group has engaged in throughout the vetting process of this project to address in this statement.

Finally, the opposition group has continually tried to discredit the decision to move forward with the Jasper Clean Energy project with personal attacks against city leaders, its employees, independent researchers, the projects developer and even other citizens, institutions, and organizations who have not totally agreed with or unequivocally accepted and supported their statements and conclusions. These attacks and their ferocity are unfortunate and perhaps defamatory. Additionally, when the City Council and Utility Service Board voted to approve the restriction-filled lease agreement the group decided to sue. This has forced the city to spend significant funds and time dealing with litigation concerning a procedural issue and not the decision itself.

As it has for nearly four years, the Utility Service Board and the City of Jasper will continue to focus on the facts and doing necessary due diligence concerning this important project. We encourage members of the public and the press to do their own due diligence regarding this issue and any future statements and articles written about it.

 




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