YSU gets steamy with SOBE

David Ferro speaks at town hall meeting. Photo by Natalie Lasky / The Jambar

By Natalie Lasky

A town-hall meeting was held to address concerns which are arising from the community because of SOBE Thermal Energy Solutions’ proposed move into the Mahoning Valley. The proposed plant would create jobs and business opportunities within the surrounding areas of Youngstown, Ohio.

John Hyden, associate vice president of Facility Maintenance at Youngstown State University, said he is looking forward to working with CEO David Ferro. Hyden said that SOBE has been providing steam to parts of Youngstown for three years and has an agreement with conditions pending to provide steam to YSU.

The steam production at YSU is used to generate heat for the buildings on campus and cool the water during the summer months. Hyden explained why YSU is considering switching to SOBE for its steam.

“SOBE Energy is willing to make steam for about the cost that we can make it and they will make it. We are in the business of educating students, we are not in the business of making steam. So, if they can make the cheap steam cheaper than [YSU], [YSU will] have them do it,” Hyden said.

Hyden said he is eager for YSU to do business with SOBE but mentioned the university can switch back to its own steam production within a matter of hours.

Sil Caggiano, former Youngstown Fire Chief and hazmat expert, said he disagrees with SOBE’s plans to use pyrolysis. Caggiano explained what pyrolysis is and what makes it dangerous.

“Pyrolysis is where you melt the product down into its basic hydrocarbon units,” Caggiano said. “The problem is you have a lot of it going up the stack and being dispersed into the community … they are burning this stuff [at] about five hundred degrees. So, you have got what is called incomplete combustion going on.” 

Caggiano said chemical release is what makes pyrolysis so dangerous because of the toxins released during the process. 

“[The chemical release] ranges everything from carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, all the way down to dioxins at five hundred degrees. You are creating dioxins and those are cancerous. We as firefighters, in our day we use [self-contained breathing apparatus] so we can operate in that environment … And if God forbid, there is a game [at] YSU going on, those people are not wearing SCBA, so they are sucking all this stuff in,” Caggiano said.

Lynn Anderson, lead organizer for the SOBE Concerned Citizens arranged the town-hall meeting to allow concerned citizens the opportunity to let their voices be heard by Ferro and Youngstown city council members. 

Anderson wants Ferro’s company to leave Youngstown, as she believes the company is risking the lives and well-being of those who reside in Youngstown. Anderson suggested the YSU steam plant should take over steam production in Youngstown, because of how dangerous the process SOBE wants to implement.

“The only way I can see this happening is if we can get YSU, and the City of Youngstown to make an agreement and have a partnership whereby Youngstown citizens would be employed to run [the YSU] steam heat boiler facility, and perhaps they’d have to get the vocational school involved to get some people trained to run this,” Anderson said. 

Ferro said he wants the community to know he aims to work with Youngstown and for the city to grow with him as the conversion process would lower utility costs.

“I’m going to learn what your concerns are which I think I know most, but I don’t want us to and I’m going to teach you why those concerns aren’t real in our situation,” Ferro said. “I hope through that process that we teach and learn together, that we can dissolve and resolve our differences right and we do that through education.”More information can be found on Sustainable Youngstown Facebook page and SOBE Energy Solutions.