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What Better Way to Spend a Saturday Afternoon

Saturday was the first time I took a tour with The Southeast Environmental Task Force. We rode a coach bus from the Chicago Cultural Center at 10am to check out the Energy and Industrial Areas in Chicago’s South Side. Making our way through Pilsen we stopped at a coal fired power plant and from there went to the Testa Produce facilities in the Stockyards. Personally I’d much rather see the giant wind turbine Testa owns spinning on a summer day then have to breathe in what comes out of those smokestacks, as most of those residents of the area have to do on a daily basis.

We moved on to West Pullman to City Solar, it’s the largest urban solar power generating facility in the country. The cool thing about the site is that it makes use of former Industrial property deemed that has been polluted. They call these lands ‘brownfields’ and developers are required to remediate these properties based on what they plan on reusing them.

The rest of the tour focused on the Calumet Region. Waste Management has a methane turbine generating electricity that a representative gave us a tour of. As you can probably guess the gas is a by-product of the rotting contents of their landfill. Dumps used to burn it off into the air with no benefit at all. Inside it looked like a jet engine housed in a very smelly garage. The site is closed to new dumping but the company is fighting to change that. SETF and other groups are already opposing that in their community.

Lunch was great; they sat us all down at La Hacienda restaurant in the Slag Valley neighborhood. We got to talk, network, and exchange quick little life stories. It’s a social as well as educational tour. I met people who owned their own green business, politicians, and students. So much is packed into this four-hour tour.  Our guide Tom is a board member of SETF. He’s funny and pretty knowledgeable on the neighborhoods and history of the region too. Crossing the border into Indiana, the tour included the BP refinery as part of the story of where our energy comes from. We drove through the Southeast Side which is dotted with brownfields from old steel industry, coal stockpiles, and abandoned grain silos. The community is zoned for heavy industry so they are trying to balance the need for employment, energy demands, and quality of the environment– all things for a balanced and healthy life. This tour gave me a snapshot of life in these neighborhoods as well the variety of energy technologies.

Tom Shepherd starts the group off with basic information about SETF
Testa Produce is LEED Platinum Certified

Excelon Urban Solar Farm

Rows and Rows of Solar Panels
Tom shares facts about the Solar Farm.

Tour group inside Waste Management’s landfill gas to electricity facility.

Waste Management’s Methane to Electric Generator

Tim, a WM staffer explains the process of converting landfill gas to electricity.

Mountains of coal stored for further transport.

Future site of the proposed Leucadia coal gasification platn.  A stack from the coke ovens still stands.

Tom points out all the industries located on the River and how they impact the environment.