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West Louisville Biodigester Would Be One Among Many Nationally

As city officials and residents clash over whether Indiana-based Nature’s Methane should be allowed to build a plant that converts food waste into methane gas, an industry group that advocates for biogas production says the plan for an anaerobic digester in West Louisville is not out of the ordinary.

According to Patrick Serfass with the American Biogas Council, there are about 2,000 digester tanks in the U.S. converting organic waste into natural gas. Most are in wastewater treatment plants, landfills and farms. More than a dozen, though, were specifically created to break down food waste -- like the project proposed for West Louisville.

So far, there’s been relatively little resistance to anaerobic digester tanks across the country, he said. But when there has been pushback, Serfass said it’s been because people hadn’t heard of the technology before.

“That’s understandable because while there might be biogas systems, there is already one in Louisville,” he said. “Most people don’t know about that.”

There are currently two digester tanks in the city: one at the Morris Forman Water Quality Treatment Center and another at the Jeffersontown Water Quality Treatment Center.

Resistance to the proposed digester tanks on 17th and Maple streets stems from residents' fears of odors and safety issues. Others simply don’t like the idea of having waste trucked into their neighborhoods. The backlash has already led developers of the West Louisville FoodPort to abandon plans to house a digester there.

Serfass said proponents of the plan need to explain how the tanks work and why biogas is important in order to build support. Also, he said proponents need to work on conveying how biogas production is different from other energy production.

“We need to go through the process of learning how these systems are different,” he said. “Especially when there is a history of other technologies or other industries doing things improperly or not having a positive impact on the community, you can understand why there might be some skepticism.”

In an effort to change minds about the Nature’s Methane plan, the Indiana-based company said it would spend the next two months explaining the plans to residents at various community meetings.

They're doing it with support from Mayor Greg Fischer. Earlier this week, spokesman Chris Poynter told WFPL a broader educational effort would lead to more support.

“I think it’s natural for people to ask questions, and it’s natural to be concerned about a technology that is not really widely deployed in our community at this time,” he said. “Although it has been deployed in other parts of the country for years.”