IXONIA — Despite dozens speaking adamantly against it Monday in a packed house, the Ixonia Town Board voted 3-1 to recommend that Jefferson County officials approve a conditional use permit to allow We Energies to construct a large, liquid natural gas storage facility in Ixonia.
The vocal, lone dissenting member of the town board in one of its biggest votes in recent memory, was Jeff Taylor. Peter Mark abstained, saying he has investments related to We Energies.
The town’s plan commission has gone on record as being opposed to the tank.
The project, as it is proposed by We Energies, calls for the liquid natural gas project to be located on approximately 120 acres that could bring estimated shared revenue payments of $550,000 annually to the town and $1.1 million, yearly, to Jefferson County.
“We’ve tried to be as transparent as possible about this,” Ixonia Town Board Chairman Perry Goetsch told an audience of about 130 people in Chivaree on Park, the alternative town board meeting facility for the evening. The venue was chosen for its size and opportunities for social distancing. “I feel there’s a need for this facility.”
Goetsch pointed out that he has lived in Ixonia his entire life and cares about the community as a longtime farmer.
“This is the price we pay for living in southeastern Wisconsin, near expanding Milwaukee and Waukesha County populations,” he said, adding he feels adequate safety precautions at the storage facility will be in place and that every time he has asked We Energies questions, the utility has answered satisfactorily.
Goetsch said he is “not in the pocket” of We Energies, as he said, has been rumored in the community.
“I never took this job to be re-elected,” Goetsch said. “This (facility) is allowable by a conditional use.”
The ultimate decision on whether the tank can be located in Ixonia will come from the county and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
The facility, if realized, would be located northeast of Hill and North roads and be operational by late 2023.
In addition to the site in Ixonia, the total project would include a location in Walworth County’s Town of LaGrange. Each would cost approximately $185 million.
According to We Energies, each site would include pre-treatment equipment, the LNG storage tank, vaporization equipment and truck loading/unloading equipment.
According to We Energies, southeastern Wisconsin is in need of additional natural gas supplies to meet customer use on the coldest days of the year. Ixonia is a strategic location for the utility, because there are gas lines already nearby.
We Energies Project Manager Rick O’Conor described what liquid natural gas storage facilities do.
He said natural gas is taken from the underground pipeline system during summer, when demand is lowest. It is then cooled until it turns into a liquid and is stored in a tank.
During winter, when demand for natural gas is high, the liquid natural gas is warmed and returned to its natural gas form. It is then sent back through the pipeline system for customers to use in heating homes, cooking meals and for other needs.
O’Conor said the state Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, the state Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have regulatory authority over the facilities and their locations. The Wisconsin Consumer Protection Bureau will also have limited jurisdiction.
We Energies is planning to purchase the Ixonia property near the Hill/North roads intersection from the Dale Griebenow family, if the project is approved. The facility, itself, would occupy approximately 20 acres of the 150 acres We Energies is pursuing. The tank would hold 12 million gallons of gas and would be 150 feet high and 150 feet in diameter. A typical water tower in the U.S. is said to be 140 feet high.
We Energies has said that the town’s residents who are We Energies customers could benefit by having a nearby, lower-cost option to meet peak natural gas needs during the coldest months of the winter. They also said there would be a local supply of natural gas that is not dependent upon interstate pipelines and the project would bring local construction and operating jobs.
We Energies representatives stressed during their presentation Monday that safety is of paramount importance to them.
“The facility will be designed and operated in compliance with all NFPA and PHMSA requirements,” they said. “The site will include the required setback area to keep any impacts of an incident within the facility property boundaries.”
They also said We Energies will develop a site-specific fire protection evaluation and emergency response plan with local fire departments.
Ixonia Fire Chief Dave Schilling said Monday that his department would be able to handle emergencies that could occur at the facility, which will be equipped with fire and gas detection systems, and an automatic emergency shutdown system if any hazardous conditions are detected. The facility will be staffed 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week, with in-person staff. It will also be monitored remotely.
We Energies said there are more than 100 existing “peaking plants” in the U.S. Some of these that are closer to Dodge and Jefferson counties include ones in central Illinois; Oak Creek; St. Paul, Minnesota and Eau Claire.
O’Conor said once it is operational, the plant should generate almost no truck traffic on town roads, because the gas will move in and out of the plant via pipes.
Jessica Rupnow was one of many speaking against the storage facility coming to Ixonia.
“We need you more than ever,” she said to the board’s members. She said if the facility is located in Ixonia she will likely sell her property, because she and her family, “... do not want to live next to a ticking time bomb.”
Carl Jaeger of the board said the Griebenows have a right to sell their land to We Energies.
“Is this (proposed project) safe? Yes. Do I want it? No,” he said.
Jaeger said the town has to be ready for change.
“I’d rather have this than 100 homes,” Jaeger said. “Ixonia is not going to stay a small town forever.”
Before abstaining, Mark said Wisconsin needs these types of facilities somewhere and right now, the place under consideration happens to be Ixonia.
Representatives of the Griebenow family said they did not seek We Energies out for the possible sale of their land. We Energies approached them. He said the sale is permissible under the law and will allow them to make some profit off land that has been in their family for decades, as well as continue to farm in Ixonia. They said they are convinced the project is safe.
Prior to the vote, the board heard from many residents of Ixonia and a few from outside the immediate area, urging the town to pass on hosting the tank. Their concerns ranged from pollution of water and affects on bird migration, to safety and the spoiling of the rural aesthetics of Ixonia. Speakers also stressed their concerns about safety issues and declines in property values as a result of the tank’s placement in the town.
The board’s Taylor spent considerable time questioning We Energies representatives Monday. He said he had concerns about possible expansion at the site and he wanted to see more about how safety would be handled. Taylor said it was wrong to ask the board to approve something when it did not have sufficient information.
Taylor’s lone dissenting vote to recommend the storage tank to higher governing bodies was met with applause from most of those in attendance.
According to county officials, the matter goes before the county’s planning and zoning committee in October and that body should return a decision by Oct. 26 after it conducts a site inspection and public hearing. A developer’s agreement will likely be considered by the Jefferson County Board of supervisors in the next two months.
Project permits and approvals that need to be obtained by We Energies include a Wisconsin PSC Certificate of Authority. Also needed are NFPA and PHMSA site setbacks, as well as safety and fire protection evaluations, and Wisconsin DNR permits.
If the project is approved, construction could begin in spring of 2021. Spring of 2023 would see the beginning of the facility’s start-up and filling of the LNG tank. Commercial operation could begin in fall of 2023.