Northern Michigan University has filed a permit application to construct a cogeneration facility on Wright Street in Marquette, at the location of the existing Ripley Heating Plant. The cogeneration facility would make steam that would be used to generate electricity and then used to heat buildings on campus. For detailed permitting information, see the DEQ web site.
There are two concerns about the proposal. One is that although the plans are to burn primarily “waste” wood, the permit application would allow coal to be used for 20 days each month. This would be a significant amount of coal burning at a time we should be moving away from using coal, due to concerns about CO2 emissions, mercury emissions, and coal mining impacts.
Second, although the plant is planning to use “waste” wood, the history of similar plants indicates it is likely to use new fiber cut specifically for the plant. The problem with cutting down trees specifically for burning in the plant is that there already has been a lot of conversion of Michigan forests from late succession species (such as hemlock and maple) to fast-growing early succession species (primarily aspen and jack pine). Although the total fiber demand for the power plant is small relative to fiber demands for paper and other pulp demands, using new fiber for the power plant would set a bad precedent. Removing the "waste" from the forests to use in the power plant could have adverse environmental impacts by removing nutrients as well as habitat such as decaying wood used by salamanders, insects, and other species.
Make your voice heard "No New Coal": The public is encouraged to present written views on the proposed permit action. Written comments should be sent to Mr. William Presson, Acting Permit Section Supervisor, Department of Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7760.
Opportunity to take action: A public hearing will be held on Nov. 27, starting at 7:00p.m. in the Marquette City Hall, Marquette, Michigan. The hearing will be preceded by an informational session where questions will be answered. This informational session starts at 6:30.