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Serving: IA

Consultant to Examine Ethanol Plant Proposals

Des Moines city manager hires expert to evaluate two choices for proposed plant.

The city of Des Moines will hire a consultant to help evaluate the possible environmental effects of an ethanol plant that is proposed to be built on the city's southeast side. Rick Clark, city manager, announced the plan to hire an outside expert last week.

Public debate over two competing ethanol plant proposals has focused largely on what the plant will use as an energy source. Will the plant be fired with coal or natural gas?

Environmentalists have told city officials that the risk of mercury exposure, lung disease and heart disease from pollution is higher with a coal-fired ethanol plant.

Need some independent advice

Clark says various technical advancements have been made in coal burning plants that make them less toxic than in past decades. Some of the information on this topic that has been given to members of the Des Moines City Council by various groups has conflicting information. Clark believes an independent consultant is needed to evaluate the plans and give the council unbiased facts.

Council members in recent weeks has failed to reach consensus on competing plans for an ethanol plant that would be built on 166 acres of city-owned land near Vandalia Road. The two proposals for the plants vary, but generally each would create about 50 jobs and about $1.6 million a year in property taxes.

Coal-fired plants pose risks?

Lincolnway Energy of Nevada, Iowa, operates a coal-fired plant there and wants to use coal in its proposed Des Moines plant too. The other company proposing a Des Moines plant, Vision Fuels of Urbandale, would use natural gas. Vision Fuels is a group of private investors who are seeking to build their first plant.

Experts agree that coal-fired plants cause more air pollution but are cheaper to operate. The Des Moines City Council has asked Clark, the city manager, to negotiate with both developers on the two proposals. The council is expected to choose one of the plans in December.

The Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental protection group, last week sent a letter to Des Moines City Council members warning of the possible harmful effects of a coal-fired plant.

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