Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration has released a long-awaited proposal to regulate the location of anaerobic biodigesters in the city. These biodigesters take organic waste — like food — and turn it into natural gas. The technology has been praised by renewable energy advocates, but two biodigesters planned in Louisville’s West End neighborhoods last year raised concerns about their proximity to homes and potential health and safety issues.
Under the proposed rules, biodigesters would be allowed in the city only in industrially-zoned locations that are at least a quarter mile from homes, churches and schools. They would also be allowed on legitimate agricultural operations. According to the map released Monday by Louisville’s Office of Planning and Design Services, this would limit most potential biodigester locations to several areas in Rubbertown and along the Ohio River in the southwestern part of the city, a large parcel near the airport and landfill and various agricultural locations near the southern and eastern borders of the county.
The proposal last year to locate two biodigesters on the West End was met with an outpouring of criticism from neighborhood residents. One of the proposed projects would have been part of the West Louisville FoodPort in the Russell neighborhood; it was scuttled last August.
The other biodigester was set to go next to the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood, and would have processed waste from that facility. The company behind that project — STAR BioEnergy — cancelled it in January after months of opposition. Neighbors said they were worried about odors from the plant, as well as the implications of putting yet another industrial site so close to a heavily residential neighborhood.
Councilman David James, who was vocal in his opposition to the previous projects, said the proposal was a step in the right direction.
“This proposed regulation represents a good starting point for discussion,” James said. “We are eager to get community input because this is a quality of life and quality of neighborhood issue.”
Brian Zoeller, an attorney who represented one of the biodigester companies in the past, said he personally felt the proposal sends the wrong message to the business community and renewable energy advocates.
“I feel like the proposed legislation is weighed too heavily on one vantage point, and good leadership always weighs all concerns,” he wrote in an email. “This feels too much like getting a cannon to kill an ant. I am proud of our community and civic leaders who are calling for us to be responsible. However, responsibility carries actions on both sides of the fence. It requires us to be well informed and to move based on facts and not just feelings.”
The city will hold six public meetings to get input on the proposed biodigester regulations: July 25 at the California Community Center and the Southwest Library; July 26 at the East Government Center and the Beechmont Community Center; and July 27 at the Newburg Library and the Central Government Center. All meetings are from 6-8 p.m.
The rule is set to go before the Planning Commission on August 1 at 6 p.m. The commission will then make a recommendation to Metro Council for final action.
This post has been updated.