Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'We're Smarter Than Ever These Days!' - Miss USA Contestants Ponder Evolution

"We're smarter than ever these days so, I mean, why not teach everything and let people make their own decisions?"
- Kaylin Reque, 22, Miss Georgia

Let's ask players in a beauty contest if "evolution should be taught in schools" -- 'cause they represent ... um ... something .... which might or could or may be knowledgeing informationisms.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Morristown Coal Gasification Plant On A Very Fast Track

A recent reader asked me to be more clear about my thoughts on story from last week about the sudden announcement that a new company called Freedom Energy Diesel will locate in one of Morristown's industrial parks - the post is here and the commenter asked:

So, what are you saying, Joe? For or against?
On the one hand, I - too - can understand everyone's concerns about no further information being available about the company. However, on the other hand, everything new starts some where. And, when figures such as - 1 million gallons of water and X amount of trucks using our local highways...are released to the 'general' public...we are not going to see that in perspective as to "that's the way business of this type is done." But, we are going to have a huge 'knee jerk' reaction because of the large numbers.
Having just discovered your blog, and being impressed with your being a local and the adequate amount of research shown in your backstory - I may not be discernable about what you are trying to say?
Are you preaching for - or against?"

I offered a somewhat lengthy response, but the short answer is that I am neither for or against, and how could I be as I am absolutely full of questions about this enormous industrial proposal. (And yes, that does in fact mean that once I ask any questions, some officials in town will label me as some cruel hater of development and jobs, and that opinion is without a doubt a load of horseshit and a sure sign some details are being intentionally withheld by The Powers That Be. And being reduced to respond to if I am "for" or "against" the project is sugar-coating and denies my right to know how my government works, and how my tax dollars are spent, so I expect my local damnation will be the line being "preached".)

And I'm very concerned the city of Morristown is moving fast while critical unknowns cloud the project, which I mentioned in my previous post, that 113 tractor trailer trucks a day will be leaving the facility traveling on Highway 25-E and Interstate 81, that the plant needs a million gallons of water a day, but will reclaim much of that by building 3 retention ponds which will hold some 900,000 gallons of water, and that there has simply been no public discussion yet about this new start up company and their plans - plenty of private meets, yes, but zero public ones.

All this happens within days after elected and appointed officials in Cumberland County demanded more information about the project and the folks from Freedom Energy Diesel immediately abandoned their plan to locate there and locate in Morristown instead. FED's CEO Bernie Rice told the Cumberland Co. folks that Morristown was "already nailed down." So rather than answer questions, the company went to Morristown, for the fast, non-questioning approach.

And the city is wasting no time in pushing the project into place. A June 12th Citizen Tribune article called the project a "miracle" - and two days later the Morristown Regional Planning Commission voted to annex 3 tracts of land for the company and to expand the existing rail lines for the plant which needs 100 rail cars of coal every other day - well, only some of that Commission approved it - the chair of the Commission, Jim Beelart was not at the meeting, the newly elected Mayor, Danny Thomas, was not at the meeting, and city councilman Bob Garrett was not at the meeting, and MRPC member Ken Smith was not at the meeting either.

The city's engineer, Jeff Branham, says fast action is "necessary" so the Georgia-based company can meet their deadline of delivering diesel fuel made via a coal gasification project in August of 2012 - that means working fast to excavate 1.2 million cubic feet of soil, construct a 570,000 square-foot building and extend the rail line before the company can ship its product. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials began inspecting the site on Tuesday, but no word yet if the Tennessee Dept of Transportation has seen any plans or will just rubber stamp a project Rice claims already has the approval of Governor Haslam.

Speedy work continues - even as the city of Morristown is under some very expensive fines and very harshly worded critical rulings from Federal Judge J. Ronnie Greer for "malfeasance" involving millions of dollars over the enormous problems with the sewer system near that industrial park, in the Witt community. His recent judicial order, as covered on the blog Noe4Accountability, reveals a city in a deep financial hole and working hard to hide their many problems with money and with the state and with the sewer and water in that part of town -- here's just a sample of his anger on how Morristown has been doing business:

...the efforts the City had to undertake “to get its financial house in order” were a result of its own malfeasance. The State Comptroller’s Office required the City to meet certain conditions before the City was allowed to incur any new debt as a result of an illegal transfer and other issues found in an audit of the City’s finances. The Comptroller’s Office made this clear to the defendant on May 21, 2010, just 10 days after this Court’s hearing where the City represented to the Court that the rehabilitation of the line could be completed by June 30, 2011. The fact that the City could not incur new debt was reiterated to the City on June 21, 2010. Thus, it took time to satisfy the conditions, which delayed the SRF loan, and which delayed the rehabilitation of the line.

It is clear from the record that the City was aware as early as May 21, 2010, that it could not receive the funding to rehabilitate the line. However, the City did not inform this Court of the problems in receiving the funding necessary to rehabilitate the line. In the months thereafter, the City never communicated any difficulty in receiving funding to this Court. It never communicated to this Court that it could not meet the schedule it represented to the Court at the May 11, 2010 hearing. This failure is inexcusable. The City knew that its proposed schedule could not be met and that problems with the Witt sewer line would persist until the line could be fully rehabilitated. Evidence shows that overflows have continued, endangering the environment and human health. Such a failure to inform this Court cannot be ignored. For these reasons, the oral motion to reconsider the decision regarding the issuance of civil penalties is DENIED."

You can read his full opinion here.

City residents have been slammed with year after year of price increases to expand and update the city's aging water and sewer systems -- and this new industrial plant will be a huge new burden on that system.

I do sympathize that new companies, new businesses and new technologies get asked lots of questions. From my own experience, I know the kinds of grilling people ask of you when you propose a project of just a few thousand dollars - and hundreds of millions are at stake here, but there seem to be few questions from the city.

But despite the city's immense problems with their own financial operations, their sewer and water problems, their track record for leaving the public in the dark when it comes to plans for development, I heartily agree that alternative fuels must be a priority locally and nationally - but burning coal isn't a new idea. And I rather wish our community had leaders like those in the Cumberland County area which dared to ask this new, unknown and untested company some tough questions, as noted in another story about the move to Morristown in the Crossville Chronicle:

Well, obviously I hate that we lost the opportunity for jobs coming here ... We will continue to look further to bring companies and jobs into that park. ... I hope it's a success in Morristown because it could be the groundwork for more plants in the future," Cumberland County Mayor Carey said.

"We appreciated the hospitality of the Chamber and mayor and the professionalism of the staff in Crossville. Our decision was nothing against Crossville," William Daniels, Corporate Operating Officer of Freedom Energy Diesel said.

The Plateau Partnership Park is a joint project of Cumberland, Morgan and Roane counties that was started in 2007 to bring economic development to the tri-county area.

"The jury was out with me on the project. I felt like we didn't have enough information on the technology or the company for me to support the project, but I wish Morristown and Hamblen County the best. If it wasn't a new start-up, capital venture and had a proven track record, it would have been worth it, but at this point I was not sold on the project. I had concerns and did not feel comfortable with how it was presented," Roane County Executive Ron Woody said.

"I think that the company (Freedom Energy Diesel) had a much faster pace in mind than what the Plateau Partnership Park board thought," Mayor Carey said.

According to the Citizen Tribune, construction on the new facility in Morristown is expected to begin as soon as possible and plant operations are to begin by November 2012.

Although officials in Cumberland County were told by Freedom Energy Diesel's CEO Bernie Rice the plant would bring a minimum of 150 jobs to the area at the start, the plans for the plant in Morristown state the facility will bring approximately 450 jobs at the start of operation and add 150 more in future expansions.

"I think there was some miscommunication with the state on the paperwork and that 150 jobs was multiplied by 3 shifts for a lot more jobs than what we originally thought," Mayor Carey said.

The location announcement was made by Eric Staton, Chief Science Officer with Freedom Energy Diesel. The plant will be located on land purchased by Freedom Energy Diesel in the East Tennessee Progress Center near Interstate 81.

The plant will use an optimized coal gasification process co-developed by D4 Capital Holdings, LLC., Battelle Memorial Institute and Dynawave Inc.

The process, which is promoted by Freedom Energy Diesel to be the latest in technology and superior to current models in production, uses plasma technology to create extremely high temperatures which turn solid materials to gas, allowing the elements to be captured and turned into new compounds with relatively little loss of energy.

When Roane County Executive Ron Woody questioned the technology of the coal gasification process and its pollutants during the meeting in Cumberland County, Daniels likened it as to comparing the technology of a rotary telephone to an iPhone.

"This is new technology that is the latest and best," he said. "You can't compare it."

Morgan County Executive Don Edwards cautioned the Industrial Development Board at the Cumberland County meeting with Freedom Energy Diesel saying, "I think you need to make sure before you step into something that you know what you are getting into."

Some background info on coal gasification for synthetic fuels:

Australia recently began doing it via underground operations.

China has been doing it too, at a cost of about $50 per barrel of fuel, though they note that the underground process may be a far more efficient technology than above-ground plants.

Source Watch report on other nations using coal to diesel production and their results, including a report that burning synthetic coal fuel in vehicles creates twice as much carbon emissions than gasoline burning vehicles.