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Commission Adopts Stricter Rules For Biodigesters In Louisville

no methane plant
J. Tyler Franklin

Louisville’s Planning Commission has approved rules governing the siting of anerobic biodigesters in the city. The regulations approved Thursday were stricter than what planners had originally proposed, but won’t be finalized until they’re approved by Metro Council.

Biodigesters take organic waste — like food — and turn it into natural gas. The proposal originally would have limited those facilities to industrial areas (including those zoned C-M, M-1, M-2, M-3 and EZ-1) with conditional use permits. They wouldn’t be allowed closer than a quarter mile to houses, schools, parks or similar facilities.

But after a public meeting earlier this week, the planning commission amended the regulations. Kentucky Resources Council Director Tom FitzGerald argued that biodigesters should be limited to M-3 zones, and shouldn’t be within a half mile of homes. That half-mile distance could be shortened to a quarter-mile under appropriate circumstances, he said.

The Planning Commission adopted FitzGerald’s suggestions, as well as making changes in the way biodigester facilities will comply with local air pollution regulations.

The reason the city is even considering the rules is because of two controversial projects that were proposed and then scuttled over the past year. Companies proposed two biodigesters in neighborhoods of Louisville’s West End, and ultimately pulled the plug after residents raised concerns about safety and potential odors from the facilities.

Attorney Brian Zoeller represented STAR BioEnergy — the company that planned to build a biodigester next to the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood. He submitted comments on the proposed regulations earlier this week, but said he did so in his capacity as a private attorney. On Monday, he said he believed the original regulations — which are now even stricter — would be a deterrent to companies thinking about building biodigesters in the county.

“I think it is a significant risk that a digester would not get developed in Jefferson County because of this rule,” he said. “And that is what some people want, unfortunately.”

FitzGerald and others argued the most appropriate place for biodigesters is in very industrial areas, like in the land near the Outer Loop landfill.

The regulationsnow go to Metro Council for approval.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.