Proposed Shelby County ethanol plant takes step forward

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — A plan to build an ethanol plant is prompting controversy in Shelby County, with people speaking out both for and  against it.

Monday night, the Shelbyville Plan Commission unanimously approved POET Biorefining’s site development plan.

“Anytime there’s any kind of change it’s gonna be scary to anybody,” said Jeremy Miller, a farmer.

Miller said he welcomes the news, as he’s losing money right now and believes this will help.

“It’s gonna create a new market for corn that we haven’t had here locally,” he said. “Right now it’s costing me 10 cents a bushel to get my grain to Indianapolis.”

POET said the plant proposed on W 300 North will bring in nearly $3 million extra to farmers each year, 45 more jobs and a $200 million economic impact on the area.

Before Monday night’s meeting and vote, POET and the Indiana Ethanol Producers hosted a dinner and meeting for supporters, farmers and community leaders to provide an update the project.

But other residents are speaking out and raising concerns.

“I’m not anti-farmer by any  means, but I think these people should have had a choice what was put in their back yard,” said Carrie Ridgeway.

Some residents are raising questions about the impact on waterways, roads and traffic, the environment, safety and health.

“There’s a lot of concerns, health, safety roads, who’s gonna take liability if something goes wrong?” asked Michelle Miller, who lives less than a mile from the proposed site.

POET has had some violations with both IDEM and the EPA.

“So POET has a 30-year track record and we’re very proud of that track record. Now are there exceptions? Sure, absolutely. Anytime we identify an issue we quickly work to resolve it. We identify what that problem is and then we share what the resolution is with the rest of the network to make sure that it isn’t repeated,” said Buck Yerdon, who does commercial development for POET.

POET said it self-reports immediately if it becomes aware of an issue. It said the primary ingredients in the ethanol process are corn, yeast and water, and what comes out of the pump is largely CO2 and steam. It said there is no water discharge from a POET plant and that the Shelbyville facility would have state-of-the-art technology.

When asked about any emissions of acetaldehyde, considered a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and cited in one IDEM violation from 2011, a company spokesperson wrote this:

“Poet operates at levels significantly below IDEM’s requirements for emissions. Poet has industry-leading technology that is designed to destroy and not emit pollutants into the atmosphere. Any release would be trace amounts, if any. Our team members and families live in the communities in which they work. We take environmental stewardship seriously.”

Following 30 allotted minutes of public comment at Monday’s meeting, the commission unanimously passed POET’s site development plan.

“POET is thankful for the community leaders who worked to move this state-of-the-art biofuels facility forward.  This project is a big economic win not only Shelbyville but the entire area. It creates new jobs, injects $200 million dollars into the local economy each year and allows local farmers and residents to take part in the national effort to grow our use of clean biofuels,” Yerdon said in a statement.

IDEM still needs to approve an air permit for the project to move forward.