A company that wants to build a coal-to-diesel plant in southern Indiana has hit a roadblock. A recent vote in the town of Santa Claus makes it unclear how Riverview Energy will get the water it needs to operate.
The town council of Santa Claus voted not to sign a memorandum of understanding with Riverview Energy and the town of Dale to move forward with a water study for the plant.
Santa Claus Town Council member Patricia Vaal said she opposes the plant because it could hurt tourism and further pollute the area.
She said she attended a private meeting with Representative Stephen Bartels, Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) and others, where the Indiana lawmakers said the state could pay for the study.
“They said we have money, infrastructure money, and also other kinds of grants that can pay for this study for $350,000 or more. So Riverview still was not going to have any skin in the game," Vaal said.
Riverview Energy has started construction on the site, but the company wouldn’t say whether or not it’s purchased the land. According to Spencer County property records, the current owner isn’t listed under Riverview Energy or Greg Merle — Riverview's president.
In a statement, Merle said the company has other options outside of the MOU.
"There are other avenues to reach our goal, and we're exploring all of them — each and every one. But whatever direction we go, Riverview Energy will continue to be a good corporate citizen of the Town of Dale and strive to bring a positive impact to the region and the U.S. hydrogen energy market," he said.
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Riverview announced last year that it intends to use green hydrogen to fuel its process by 2050. Under its current permit, a 2019 IDEM estimate said the facility could emit more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year and at least another million tons in other toxic air pollutants.
Mary Hess is the president of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life — which opposes the project. She said progress on the plant has been slow — it’s been 12 years since it was first proposed in Vermillion County and five years since it was proposed in Dale.
“It's time for the state to walk away from this project. It's just–you know nothing has–no substantial amount of money has been spent on this project by Riverview," Hess said.
Earlier this year, Riverview Energy asked the state for more time before starting construction, but later canceled the request. The company instead constructed a small security building shortly before its current permit was set to expire.
The plant is expected to invest $2.5 billion in the state and create more than 220 permanent jobs in the area.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story said Riverview intends to use green hydrogen to fuel its process. For the purpose of clarity, we have added Riverview intends to do this by 2050, but its current permit said the facility could emit more than 2 million tons of CO2 per year.