Area residents opposed to power plant speak out at Glenwood zoning meeting

  Octavia Altheimer, right, captures the scene at
  Glenwood village hall Tuesday as residents display
  signs opposing a proposed power plant to be
  located at the southeast corner of the village. 
(Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Residents opposing a proposed gas-fired power plant packed a Glenwood Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Tuesday, and while they did not stop the plant's zoning application, they slowed the process.

Oak Meadow Energy LLC of Boston has proposed building and operating a 1,250 megawatt electricity generating plant on 75 acres of land on the southeast corner of Glenwood. The property is on the west side of Cottage Grove Avenue just north of Joe Orr Road. A portion of the tract lies outside the current village boundary, but the village plans to annex that land for the project.

  An aerial view shows the
  location of the proposed
  power plant near the
  intersection of Cottage
  Grove Avenue and Joe Orr
 (Provided image)

OME's application to the village seeks to have the plant site zoned M-2, manufacturing. A portion of the land is currently zoned residential by default but has not been developed. OME also seeks a special use permit to enable it to build and operate the power plant on the site.

In recent weeks, a number of Glenwood and area residents began a campaign on social media to oppose the construction of the plant, citing concerns about its impact on the environment and the health of area residents.

Village Attorney John Donahue noted as the meeting began that the ZBA had received about two dozen letters and emails from residents, including three from Homewood residents, with comments and questions about the project.

Many more people showed up for the meeting, filling the board room and spilling out into the lobby of village hall.

As the meeting began, Lenny Asaro, an attorney representing OME, announced that the company would bring seven witnesses to offer expert testimony about the project. 

Donahue noted at the beginning of the hearing that the proceedings might not be finished that night. 

One witness completed testimony, but so many residents — including several from Homewood and Flossmoor — offered questions and comments that time ran out before a second witness could finish. The board voted to continue the hearing to April 23 at 6:30 p.m. The board meets at village hall, 1 Asselborn Way, Glenwood.

That date was chosen to allow time for the village board to consider a recommendation from the ZBA that the village hire an independent consultant to assess the project. Several residents questioned whether the village would receive adequate information from the slate of witnesses, all of whom were retained by OME.

Octavia Altheimer, an opposition organizer, occasionally led the crowd in chants of "no power plant" as some residents held up signs with the same message.

Kyle Kekeisen, OME project manager, provided an overiew of the plan. 

He said the plant will use a combined cycle approach, which means it will have two natural gas-powered combustion turbines plus a steam turbine powered by waste heat from the combustion turbines. 

Kekeisen said it would be an efficient, state-of-the-art facility. 

The site was chosen for several reasons, he said. Among them, the need for new power generation plants in northern Illinois as existing plants continue to age.

He said the site has the benefit of proximity to transportation, electricity and gas infrastructure which has adequate capacity to handle the addition of the new plant.

In response to residents' questions about the environmental impact of the plant, he described the rigorous permitting process, which is in its early stages, and noted that the plant would not be allowed to operate if it did not meet the standards set by the state to protect human health.

David Zaber of Homewood remained skeptical and said his concern was not just with the pollution the plant will generate. He said the area already is experiencing decreasing air quality, and the plant, even in compliance with regulations, will contribute to the problem.

"This is the biggest decision the Glenwood board will ever make," he said.

Erika Shafer of Flossmoor noted that scientists estimate the world has about a dozen years before climate change will be irreversible. She asked Kekeisen how he justifies building a fossil-fuel-burning plant given that timeline.

Kekeisen responded that modern gas-powered plants are needed during the transition to renewable energy infrastructure because renewable sources have not yet reached the needed capacity.

Although residents asked Kekeisen challenging questions about the plant's safety, village officials were on the receiving end of some of the most heated comments.

The first speaker was Bill Johnson, who said he had lived in Glenwood for 40 years. 

"Why has the village gone down this dastardly road without letting us know?" he said. "Why didn't you ask the villagers if we want this?"

Johnson was not alone. Of about 20 residents who spoke, none expressed support for the project.

ZBA members indicated OME's application has not yet been approved, and that the hearing process is the mechanism for informing the board and the public about the project before a decision is made.

Board member Nanette Drisi responded to some of the criticism leveled at village officials.

"I'm highly insulted by your implying that we would do anything but try to help our community," she said. "I love it that you are impassioned and you came out to talk to us. We will reconsider everything, but there's no way myself or anyone on this board would willfully do anything to do you harm."


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