Residents prevail: St. Paul abandons biomass incinerator scheme at Ford site

Anne Hunt has written a letter to the Highland Villager, appearing on March 18, 2015,  saying: “the site is not appropriate for that technology[biomass incineration]” and it’s been eliminated from consideration.

Below are two letters that appeard in the previous week’s Villager, one from Nancy Hone and one from Alan Muller:

Dear Editor,

AIR POLLUTION ALERT!!: St. Paul city officials are considering putting a biomass incinerator at the old Ford plant site!! EEEEK!

Deja Vu Citizens! Remember the Rock Tenn proposed garbage/biomass burner plan?

About 10 years ago, I just happened to see a very small letter to the editor in the Villager re: plans to build a garbage/biomass burner at the Rock Tenn paper plant at 280 and 94. It seemed that this was the first that
the public heard about such a project. It appeared that city, county and state “leaders” had stealthily concocted this big polluting project without public notice. Thankyou Villager!!

From this little note in your paper, the neighbors became rightfully alarmed and ended up having to spend their own resources of time, money, stress and energy for several years to say NO!!! to this terrible idea while our public officials
spent your hard earned tax money to promote the project.

Neighbors Against the Burner, a group of neighbors collected to take action to stop this madness, held public meetings bringing in experts on incineration to educate their public officials and the public as to what a bad polluting idea this was.

Fast forward to January 29th, 2015. A public meeting was held by the Ford Site Planning Task Force. There had been talk of sustainability energy efforts being discussed so members of Neighbors Against the Burner’s had red flags go up.

Lo and behold, Ann Hunt, Mayor Chris Coleman’s Environmental Policy Director, showed a power point that included the incineration of biomass at the Ford plant site as an option in her powerpoint pie chart!!

We are amazed that the powers that be had not learned from the last incinerator debacle that they were educated about.It is very well documented that “biomass” incineration emits high levels of both climate-changing emissions and health-damaging air pollutants.

In the February 4th Villager, Jane McClure reported that the mayor, Councilman Chris Tolbert and other public officials were going on a privately funded European tour that would include zero energy developments. Ms. McClure reported that “A goal of zero-energy development is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.”

Yet, the mayor’s office spoke of burning biomass at the Ford site. Burning biomass can produce more greenhouse gases than coal! When questioned in the January 29th meeting about the lack of wisdom of burning biomass that would be a big source of pollution and the cause of yet more greenhouse gases, a representative from the Danish consultants falsely claimed that burning biomass does not harm people’s health.What audacity!

I invite all of you, including public officials to go to our web site and read the section on burning biomass. It will curl your ears.

When city officials have been contacted with concern, the response has been to not worry because the report by the Danish consultants won’t be out until the summer.This attempt to pat us on the head did not work.

I say to you John and Jane Q. Public to be on alert and to communicate with your public officials to nip this in the bud before it gets any traction.

Please help Neighbors Against the Burner diligently watch for any and all movement in the direction of burning and incinerating ANYTHING! at the Ford site. And foremost, remember to thank Councilmember Chris Tolbert whose office stated he “is strongly against having a biomass burner at the Ford site. Please be rest assured that Councilmember Tolbert will not support any recommendation that includes a biomass burner.”

Finally, Mayor Coleman should immediately disclose who is paying for this proposed junket, who would be going, and exactly when.

Nancy Hone
founder/coordinator ,
Neighbors Against the Burner


Thank you for your report on the Jan 29th Ford site community meeting. I also attended this meeting and have some thoughts to add.

The size and location of the site give it potential importance to the City of St. Paul. It makes sense that the City is interested in encouraging a low-energy, or energy-efficient, redevelopment. There are lots of opportunities to do that, such as energy-efficient building envelopes, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic, high “coefficient of performance” geothermal heat pumps, and use of locally generated hydroelectricity. But, “the devil is in the details” and some of what I heard at the Jan 29th meeting is concerning.

Ford’s choice of the site, in the 1920s, for an auto plant was due to the availability of hydro power on the site, and Henry Ford’s ability to get control of that power, in a contest involving Minneapolis, St. Paul, Northern States Power Company, the Corps of Engineers, and other parties. Ford had a deep interest in what today we might call “sustainability” and in hydro power in particular. The hydro plant, although sold by Ford in 2008, is still in operation and the obvious source, along with solar, of “on site” energy. There is also a thermal (steam) power plant dating from the 1920s that was in operation, to some degree, until Ford finally shut down operations in 2011.

The City and its consultants have stated that a biomass incinerator (the promoters would call it a “biomass power plant”), presumably located in the old steam plant, is under consideration. They have said that wind turbines on the site, or a garbage burner, are not on the table.

Wind turbines don’t belong in urban areas. Garbage burners don’t belong anywhere. A biomass incinerator would be a bad idea for various reasons including (1) energy needs at the site would be too small to justify such a facility, (2) large numbers of trucks would tie up roads, hauling in waste fuels and hauling out ash, and (3) wood chip storage facilities often produce odors and airborne allergens, and are subject to fires from spontaneous combustion.

But the key reason is that wood is a very dirty fuel, with high emissions of both climate-changing gases (carbon dioxide) and health damaging air pollutants. For example, a 25 megawatt wood burner proposed in Minneapolis a few years ago was projected to put out over one million pounds per year of health-damaging air pollutants including 150 pounds per year of lead. (Facts on this project are posted here: ). A “Ford” wood burner would harm air quality and increase rates of asthma and other diseases.

Why is such an absurdity “under consideration?” My impression is that City of St. Paul energy policy is being steered by District Energy St. Paul, itself a big polluter with a long-expired permit. District Energy never misses an opportunity to promote another smokestack, and probably steered the City to consultants pre-disposed to promote a burner.

Practically speaking, the City of St. Paul has limited time and limited tools with which to influence the re-development of the Ford site. A drawn-out controversy over an incinerator would waste these opportunities. Mayor Coleman would be wise to make clear, as soon as possible, that a burner is “off the table.”

Alan Muller


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  1. Promised updates on details of mega-horrible bills…. | - March 19, 2015

    […] My answer is that these Dirty Burner industries have their hooks deep into Minnesota, including its “environmental community.”  For example the membership of  the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), a promoter of S. F. 1431, includes Dovetail Partners, a front for biomass incineration interests.  On the other hand, when St. Paul based Neighbors Against the Burner (NAB) wanted to join MEP they were told to go away.  (NAB has had a string of successes, a recent one noted here.) […]

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