A change in plans for Oneida biomass power plant

By Lisa Gibson | February 22, 2011

A 5-megawatt, 60,000-square-foot biomass power plant planned for tribal land in the Wisconsin city of Ashwaubenon will instead be developed in Green Bay.

As developer Oneida Seven Generations Corp., a subsidiary of the Oneida Tribe of Indians, was waiting for the U.S. DOE to complete its environmental assessment of the tribal site, the organization was contacted by a number of parties who offered other potential project sites, according to Pete King, project manager. Among them was the city of Green Bay’s economic development department.

King said a number of sites in the city were considered and the one chosen offers several advantages: it makes financial sense; it offers a cooperative working relationship with the city of Green Bay; and offers a great location for such a project. “It is in a remote part of the city of Green Bay, away from residences, zoned for general industrial and surrounded by a city dump site, a few construction firms, an interstate highway and a dredge materials dump site,” King says. “It is also close to transmission lines, which is a big consideration.” In addition, the site is not on federal trust land, as was the Ashwaubenon location.

Because of that federal trust status, the previous site did not need local approval, but Oneida Seven Generations was in the process of conducting a public input process anyway, as it’s an important aspect of development, according to King. But electing to carry out the input process didn’t score the organization any points, as the project was still attacked by fierce local opposition. In fact, a January article announcing the plant on Biomass Power & Thermal’s website had one of the highest comment tallies of all recently-posted articles, most expressing disgust over the proposal.

“Those who were opposed to our project because of the previous location no longer have to be concerned about the facility,” King said. “We do anticipate, however, there may be continued opposition from a small but vocal group that does not believe in the technology and/or does not like tribal projects.” He added that the new location has received a great deal of support from a number of individuals and entities, including the alderperson for the district where the plant will be built and from the group Sustainable Green Bay.

So plans are moving forward for the new location and Oneida Seven Generations has obtained a unanimous recommendation for a conditional use permit from the Green Bay Plan Commission. The permit recommendation now goes to the full city council for approval. The DOE is expected to hold a public hearing in late March or early April and then issue its findings, and Oneida Seven Generations still needs approvals from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and potentially from the U.S. EPA.

If constructed, the $23 million plant will use 150 tons of municipal solid waste per day through contracts with private haulers as well as municipalities, King said. The excess power will be sold to Wisconsin Public Service for the local grid. The plant will employ what Oneida Seven Generations calls pyrolysis gasification, where the feedstock is heated and broken down into syngas.