Hoffmann column: Dairyland Power keeps making news

Dairyland Power Cooperative just can’t stay out of the news.

In the last few weeks, the La Crosse based power coop has received both positive and negative publicity. Let’s look at the positive first.

Dairyland and its member cooperative, Tri-County Electric, donated $1,000 to Mississippi River Wild to help fund a spotting scope project at the Mississippi River Refuge observation area in Brownsville, Minn.

This new observation area attracts hundreds of bird watchers from many areas, particularly during the fall migration. It is the premiere viewing location for tundra swans, eagles, ducks and geese.

“Contributing to the permanent, mounted scope is a great match for Dairyland’s commitment to environmental stewardship and education in the communities we serve. Now, birdwatchers will be able to enjoy the incredible wildlife in the Refuge even more,” said Don Huff, Dairyland Director of Environmental Affairs.

The coop also announced a partnership with the Mississippi Valley Conservancy that will preserve 110 acres of bluff land near Alma.

In addition, Dairyland announced it has completed its expansion of the Veolia ES Seven Mile Creek Landfill gas-to-energy (E) facility with the addition of a fourth 1 MW generator and gas conditioning system.

The Seven Mile Creek landfill is located in Eau Claire and is served by Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, a Dairyland member.

When the new unit came online April 1, plant capacity expanded to 4 MW, which is enough renewable energy to power 3,325 homes in the Dairyland system. The Seven Mile Creek LGE plant began operations in 2004.

Along with the new generator, a gas conditioning system was installed at the plant site to increase reliability and reduce maintenance issues.

“The methane gas collected at the landfill is essentially ‘cleaned up’ in the conditioning system prior to being used to generate electricity. This will help the engines run smoothly, and reduce maintenance costs,” said Tony McKimmy, Dairyland Manager, Renewable & Combustion Turbine Generation.

These all are legitimate news stories that demonstrate Dairyland has a commitment to the environment while also producing power. But, a persistent coal ash problem from the coop’s Genoa plant tends to overshadow these positive stories and, in fact, has some opponents to a dump site claiming that Dairyland simply is trying to put positive spin on its image.

Asbury Ridge Citizens for Hope (ARCH), made up of people who live east of Viroqua, organized a demonstration at the coop’s headquarters last week. The group opposes a proposal to develop a coal ash landfill anywhere in Vernon County.

“Our message at present, is to ask DPC to seek alternative options to installing and operating new scrubber technology that will create an increased volume as well as a more toxic coal ash waste product. There are other options available that would allow utilities to ‘buy time‘, allowing for technology development, which could eventually help to alleviate problems with coal fired energy production,” read an ARCH press release.

Dairyland first started exploring a possible site in the Town of Harmony for a dump site, but in more recent months has been talking with Vernon County about establishing a site near the current county landfill.

Coop officials also recently told members of the public that while they are seeking as many alternatives to dumping the ash as possible some of the materials will still have to be put in a landfill.

The ash controversy has included the Vernon Electric Cooperative in recent weeks. Members of that coop voted at the annual meeting to consider an alternative to buying power from Dairyland if the larger coop still moves forward on a landfill.

But, a recent VEC newsletter reported that the resolution, along with another on the contract with Dairyland, were only presented. The VEC board attorney also has given an opinion that the resolutions were only advisory and did not mandate that the VEC board take any action.

This set off a group email exchange in which several people questioned the VEC stance, brought up the Dairyland “spin” issue and started to organize last week’s protest.

The opponents are somewhat accurate in claiming Dairyland officials have engaged in attempts to create positive “spin” for its image. But, those so-called positive stories also were legitimate news stories that should have been reported.

However, Dairyland officials should not believe that any amount of “good deeds” will remove the stain created by the coal ash issue. The only thing that will do that is for the coop to scrap the plans for a dump site and find alternative ways of dealing with the ash.