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Editorial: Plant could be a good addition if...

There's a word that keeps coming up when you listen to a description of the new biomass gasification plant proposed for Empire Township: "If."

At first glance the plant, which would turn garbage and other waste material into high-end diesel fuel, sounds like a miracle. It will reduce the amount of trash that goes into landfills. It will reduce dependence on foreign oil. It will be the first of a new breed of fuel production plants.

If it works like it's supposed to.

The process should have only a minimal impact on nearby residents.

If the smell of garbage doesn't sneak out the door when trucks bring fresh loads in.

If the building holds in the noise of the machinery.

If the additional truck traffic is really is what CEO Ed Driscoll describes as "a spit in the bucket" on overall loads on Hwy. 52 and CR 46.

The people behind the plant present all kinds of reasons to get excited about what they hope to bring to the area. It produces a fuel that combines the best qualities of regular and biodiesel. It uses a small amount of natural gas to get going, but then the process produces all the fuel it needs to sustain itself.

There's nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. That makes it exciting. But it also makes it a mystery. The closest example to the proposed Empire plant is a plant near Toronto. That plant uses something called black liquor, a nasty substance created as part of the process of creating paper pulp, as its fuel source. If the process works with that difficult fuel source, the plant's backers say, then the trash proposed as a fuel source locally should be a walk in the park.

There's that word again.

It's probably unreasonable to expect guarantees this early in the process. And there appears to be a lot of promise here. Technology like what is being proposed for Empire is already in use, though not all in one system and not on this scale. There is some reason for at least cautious optimism.

The plant Rational Energies has proposed could be a good addition to Empire Township.

As long as it does what they say it does.