Southern Utah News Articles
Kanab City Planning Commission gets lots of questions at meeting
The following report covers the Kanab Planning Commission (KPC) meeting held on January 13 before an overflow audience in the Sixth District Court chambers.
Jim Guthrie, president of Viresco Energy LLC, based in Riverside, CA, along with Viresco scientist Dr. Arun Raju and Thebeau Consulting engineer Josh Beazer, came before the KPC to answer questions and state their case for approval of the coal hydro-gasification plant Viresco seeks to build in Kanab.
If approved by the KPC, the test plant would be built on 10 acres of land leased from the State Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) for the next 30 years. The site is located a quarter mile off Hwy 89A on the Kaneplex road in south Kanab and is within site of many Kanab residences.
The test pilot plant hopes to prove that Viresco’s steam hydro-gasification technology (HGT) can convert carbon based materials (coal, wood, paper, rubber, plastic, etc.) into methane gas, which comprises 85% of natural gas. All this while drastically reducing noxious gas pollutants like nitrous oxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and, the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), in the process.
Initially, coal from the new Alton strip mine will be used for fuel with a five tons per day burning capacity, but later other biomass sources, anything from paper to tires, would be tested.
The research on HGT was initially performed by Viresco and the University of California starting in 2002. Guthrie owns all the patents on the technology. “The plant proposed for Kanab is strictly a research and testing facility and, if testing proves successful, we have parties in China that are interested in building a 500 ton per day capacity plant and from there we would go to even bigger plants in the U.S. and abroad.
The process involves heating a fluid bed of sand in a closed chamber to extreme temperatures using propane gas, and then introducing pulverized coal into the chamber to burn in the absence of oxygen, thereby producing methane gas. This would then be analyzed and burned off in a 67 foot high flare stack on-site.
The burning operation would initially occur at intervals and be 20 days in length, but then incrementally increase to 80 days duration, “necessary to prove up the operation’s capabilities,” according to Guthrie.
Guthrie and his wife bought a ranch in the Alton area in 2004 and originally planned to try to build his plant there, but realized there were no amenities to accommodate what he anticipates being a fair number of interested parties coming to review his project.
Last year, he approached the Kanab City Council (KCC) to request a zone change for his leased SITLA property, which was designated multi-residential on Kanab’s master plan at the time.
The KCC voted to change it to Manufacturing 2, and later chose to modify it by making it more specific as a Research and Development designation in order to avoid allowing the possibility of large commercial developments to occur under the M2 zone.
Most of the money needed to fund this research is coming from the Department of Energy (DOE) in the form of a $2.4 billion grant, although Guthrie stated he has spent $10 million of his own money on the project. “This plant is going to be built somewhere,” Guthrie said, “whether or not it’s here in Kanab.”
He said that 51% of all power generated in this country is via coal burning and that his technology, if proven effective, will cost 24% less in capital outlay for new coal burning plants and be 18% more efficient.
Utah State Representative Mike Noel addressed the commission members saying, ‘I sympathize with you all because, like me in the state house chamber, you’ve had to put up with a lot of criticism, without getting a lot of credit for your efforts when you have to deal with issues like this. Misinformation and incredible information is hard to overcome. Viresco owns this hydro-gasification technology and has received a large grant from the DOE to conduct these tests. I encouraged Mr. Guthrie to locate his plant here.”
Tim Andrus, of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ), stated that a “Small Source Exemption” for noxious gas emissions has been applied for by Viresco. This limits particulate matter, SO2, CO2, NO2 and other contaminant emissions to no more than a total of five tons per year and limits any single hazardous pollutant to 500 pounds per year.
Paul Wright, of UDEQ in St. George, in charge of water quality issues, stated that testing of the water discharged from the plant would need to be tested for harmful contaminants before being discharged into the city’s sewer line now being installed from the new Public Safety Facility east of the Viresco site. No discharged water would enter the Jackson Reservoir. “Water quality tests would not normally be done by UDEQ,” said Wright, “but we would monitor data submitted by plant technicians for safety compliance.”
Planning Commission meetings are not normally open for public comment, but this session was an exception, and those in attendance had plenty of questions.
Jack Gisler, professionally involved in coal burning power plants for a number of years, asked who would be responsible for removal and reclamation of the plant should it fail to fully materialize.
Guthrie replied, “We’re not building a commercial plant, only a test facility. There will be no costs to the City of Kanab, and no further plans to extend what we’re doing here. We will research coal burning first and then explore the use of other feedstock, so I don’t see this plant dissipating soon.”
“All research facilities eventually close and there has to be some provisions to ensure removal and clean-up of this site,” said John Roberts.
Herb Alexander, a Vermilion Cliffs resident, stated, “Limiting noxious gases like benzene, toluene and xylene to 500 pounds, is not like limiting benzene, a known carcinogen, to zero – where it should be.”
Like many residents, Marsha Martin said she moved to Kanab for the clean air and water, and that these qualities are being threatened.
Another resident, Larry S., stated that misinformation comes from lack of information, and felt the public had not received proper notification of these developments.
Guthrie stated that the process has been curtailed somewhat when he was notified that the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians had not been informed by the DOE or Viresco of this plant proposal, and their reservation boundary is within a mile of the site. This calls for at least a Environmental Impact Report (EIR) via the National Environment Policy Act, which may lead to a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being done, which would delay construction by several months.
Tom Carter, “another downwinder,” asked why Kanab was chosen for this plant. Guthrie said it met his needs and that the site in particular was open for industrial development. Kanab’s master plan designates the land along the Kaneplex road as an industrial development area, which is encouraged under this plan.
The answers to the myriad of questions will need to be determined, and the council members will divide them up into integrated categories and assign themselves the task of finding those answers.
The Kane County Taxpayers Association has offered the city their consulting experts to help garner information, if the request is made.
Finally, the question of risks versus benefits of the project was made. Benefits might include a
few local workers being hired, although the vast majority of the staff will, admittedly, consist of Viresco scientists and technicians, along with the impact anticipated visitors to the plant may have on the local economy.
Risks include the potential for environmental degradation, noise and light pollution, plant accidents and associated hazards, visual pollution from smokestacks and increased vehicle traffic on heavily used roads, amongst others.
Commission member Dirk Clayson explained that as long as the integrity of the application
process was observed and followed by Viresco, any risk-benefit factor cannot be incorporated into the deliberations of the Planning Commission in making their decision to grant or deny Viresco’s request to build this plant.
Guthrie became increasingly irritable in having to defend his project, especially with the thought that a EIS might need to be performed, along with the a new city review each time he wanted to change feedstock or other parameters at the plant. “We’ll be put at jeopardy every time we want to run a new test at the plant, and we don’t want to have to spend more money to do those things,”he said emphatically.
Many of the Kane County residents in attendance were concerned about the project.