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Council to vote on natural gas

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The challenge of meeting local energy needs with non-polluting energy sources presented itself in a new form to Village Council on May 16, as Council considered whether to use natural gas as an intermediate energy source.

After discussion and some input from citizens, Council requested that Village Manager Mark Cundiff prepare legislation for membership in a combined-cycle natural gas-fired generating plant sponsored by AMP, the Village’s municipal power supplier. Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the legislation at its next meeting on June 6. Council will need to move quickly on the issue to meet AMP’s deadline of June 15, according to Cundiff.

Natural gas, once considered the clean alternative to coal, has become controversial in recent months as the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has received more publicity. A process that releases the natural gas in the earth, fracking is also linked with the escape of methane gas into the air and contamination of groundwater. The practice sparked local interest in recent months as property owners just outside Yellow Springs were approached by natural gas drilling companies seeking drilling rights.

At the May 16 meeting, Council members also unanimously approved a resolution that supports a state-wide moratorium on fracking until the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, completes a study on fracking safety, which is expected in 2012.

But while Council members unanimously supported the need for more research on fracking, the issue became more complex when related to the best way to address local energy needs.

“I’m uncomfortable with demonizing natural gas” as an energy source, Karen Wintrow said, stating that evidence points to natural gas being a far cleaner energy source than coal, which the Village could end up using if it lacks alternatives.

While the Village recently signed on to a new solar energy project in town, solar provides energy only for peak needs, and does not address the need for energy during baseline or intermediate periods. The AMP natural gas plant would provide an intermediate energy source.

The Yellow Springs Energy Board has concluded that the AMP project “should be well-suited as an intermediate power source” for the Village, according to EB member Jerry Papania in a presentation. While the group echoed concerns around fracking, there is growing movement, including in the Obama administration, toward research and regulation that will make the process safe, he said.

“The Energy Board feels that investigation, innovation and regulation will eventually overcome these problems,” Papania said.

The EB report also stated that fracking seems to be involved in about 30 percent of shale gas extraction.

But 30 percent of natural gas extraction “is not small,” said TJ Turner, who became interested in researching the issue after he was approached by a natural gas company for drilling rights on his property. He did not allow the drilling, and although he’s not aware of plans to drill on local properties, “Our demand could create an impact on other communities,” that would be affected by contamination, Turner said.

Vickie Hennessy of the Environmental Commission raised concerns about the length of the AMP natural gas contract, which is 30 years.

“Thirty years is a long time if fracking does not get regulated,” Hennessy said.

Judith Hempfling and Lori Askeland also expressed concern over the length of the contract, especially that it could prevent the Village from using more renewable energy sources that might come available in the future.

But “there’s no easy solution” to the energy question, according to Rick Walkey, who stated that the Energy Board had supported natural gas because it is “relatively benign” compared to coal.

All Council members agreed that they will discuss the issue more at their June 6 meeting, and will vote at that time.

Other business items from the May 16 Council meeting will be covered in next week’s paper.

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