Wisconsin high court rejects Green Bay’s decision to kill syngas project

On May 29, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected allegations that an Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin subsidiary misled Green Bay officials over a proposed waste-to-energy plant, finding the city erred in revoking the controversial project’s conditional use permit.

In a split decision, the high court dismissed Green Bay’s claim that Oneida Seven Generations Corp. CEO Kevin Cornelius and other project representatives secured the permit through misrepresentations and false statements, saying the allegations were not supported by substantial evidence.

Oneida Seven Generations had sought a conditional use permit to install a renewable energy facility in the City of Green Bay. Although the city initially voted to grant the permit, it subsequently voted to rescind the conditional use permit on the basis that it was obtained through misrepresentation. The court of appeals determined that the city’s decision that the permit was obtained through misrepresentation was not supported by substantial evidence and reversed.

Said the May 29 state Supreme Court decision: “Like the court of appeals we conclude that the City’s decision to rescind the conditional use permit was not based on substantial evidence. In conducting a certiorari review to determine whether there was substantial evidence to support a decision, we consider the evidence in context. Considering the context, we determine that based on the evidence presented, the City could not reasonably conclude that the statements by Oneida Seven’s representative to the City government regarding the proposed facility’s emissions and hazardous materials, its stacks, and its technology were misrepresentations. Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals.”

Oneida Seven proposed a renewable energy facility that would take municipal solid waste and turn it into energy via a pyrolytic gasification system. It described the process as follows: municipal waste is delivered to the facility where it is sorted and inappropriate materials, such as tires and plastics, are removed. Then the waste is transferred into a pyrolytic converter, where it is heated and processed into gas. The remaining residue (such as ash) exits the unit. The gas is then cleaned in a venturi separator, before it is stored. Some of the gas (referred to as synthetic gas or “syngas”) is used to fuel the system, the rest can be used to generate steam or electricity.

The CEO of Oneida Seven, Kevin Cornelius, its engineer, and its project manager presented PowerPoint slides accompanied by an audio recording to a city commission which explained how the pyrolysis process works. Some of the dispute had to do with what Cornelius said verbally at hearing about environmental impacts related to ash byproducts from the project’s venturi scrubbers, and what was in documents the company submitted to the commission, including Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permitting documents. The high court said the documents showed clearly the environmental impacts and that nothing Cornelius said actually contradicted the documents.

Said the court on that point: “There is no indication in the record that the statements Cornelius actually made (that the scrubbers remove the harmful toxins from the syngas and that the dioxins and mercury would not be in the ash, which could be reused for beneficial purposes) were false. Opponents of the project who testified at the October 2, 2012 hearing referred to the DNR permit as support for their assertions that Cornelius lied. However, that permit provides no support for their position. It identifies ‘facility-wide’ potential emissions, it does not state that there would be toxins in the syngas or dioxins or mercury in the ash.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.