Developer, group dispute biomass plan details

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POWNAL -- A proposed 29.5-megawatt biomass and integrated wood pellet manufacturing facility has drawn skepticism and opposition from a number of townspeople, as well as support.

Preliminary details of the project, which developers hope to complete at the former Green Mountain Race Track site in 2013, have been made public a number of times. The most recent public session was a presentation at the old track’s grandstand by the developer, Beaver Wood Energy, LLC, and roughly 100 people attended.

Aspects of the proposal were hotly debated, especially concerning the scope of environmental impacts and their measurement, as well as other project details.

A citizen’s group that met in early September and dubbed itself Concerned Citizens of Pownal later became an anti-biomass organization, said its spokeswoman, Pam Lyttle, a resident of Pownal. The group has started a mailing list, concernedcitizensofpownal@hotmail.com, as well as a Facebook.com page titled "Southern Vermont Against Biomass."

The mailing list and page are intended to keep people informed on events related to the project as well as provide Web links to studies on biomass plants in general.

There is also a Web site, www.pownalbiomass.info, tailored to the Pownal project. Lyttle said the site was created by Geoff Brown, of Greenfield, Mass., who took part in efforts to oppose a proposed biomass plant in that town.

Number of claims

The site includes a section titled "The Developers" that makes a number of claims about biomass projects in Maine that were either proposed or built by companies that employed Thomas Emero and Bill Bousquet, of Beaver Wood.

Emero, an environmental lawyer and managing director of development and operations at Beaver Wood, was formerly the general counsel for Alternative Energy, a company that built biomass plants in Ashland and Livermore Falls, Maine, that exist today and are owned along with three other plants by Boralex, a Canadian company. Bousquet was the vice president of Alternative Energy.

They also built a plant in Chester, Maine, but it no longer operates.

Emero and Bousquet said the Pownal facility, as well as its proposed sister plant in Fair Haven, will be the cleanest ever built in the United States and will use the latest pollution control technology. They have said the Vermont plants will not burn construction and demolition waste (C&D) but wood from existing logging operations.

Emero said the lease with the track’s does not allow burning C&D, the equipment in the plant can’t handle it, and the state won’t permit it.

The Pownal biomass site claims the Ashland plant is permitted to burn 456 million pounds per year of C&D as well as treated wood like railroad ties and utility poles.

Emero said all biomass plants measure fuel in tons, not pounds.

Louis Fontaine, compliance manager with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Air Quality Bureau, said the Ashland facility had a 2002 license renewed in 2005 that permitted it to burn 570,276 tons per year in fuel. He said 30 percent of what it burns per year can be C&D, and it is forbidden to burn treated wood such as railroad ties and telephone poles.

The Web site claims the Livermore Falls facility burns more than one million pounds of C&D. Fontaine said the current permit is for 530,000 tons per year of wood at 50 percent moisture, and that up to 50 percent can be C&D. Like the Ashland facility, none of that can be treated wood.

The site further claims that both plants have been in "High Priority Violation" of the Clean Air Act since 2005, with no action taken by the Maine DEP.

Kurt Tidd, a regulation enforcer for the air quality bureau, said that claim isn’t true.

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Tidd said the bureau receives quarterly reports on emissions data from the facilities it licenses, and in Boralex’s case, any violations each facility incurs are processed on a rotating basis.

Violations have been fixed

This year was somewhat different, he said, because while it was Livermore Falls’ turn to have its past violations cleared up, Ashland failed a "stack test," which is a more serious level of violation, so Livermore Falls was skipped for the time being and Ashland was attended to.

Tidd said the violations are usually small and are fixed by the company before the quarterly report comes out.

Tidd said a plant will briefly exceed its emissions permit when it starts up or shuts down, or when there’s any kind of irregularity in the fuel feeding process. He said most are minor enough to not require action.

He said the federal Environmental Protection Agency has oversight over state air quality regulators and gives the state authority to enforce its regulations. He said both facilities were found in violation in 2005 and were taken off the High Priority Violator list in 2006.

He said in 2005, the five facilities were fined $90,958, with $14,800 of that being incurred by Ashland and $50,387 by Livermore Falls. An additional fine of $114,000 was applied to the five facilities by the Bureau of Remediation and Waste, which regulates, among other things, the fuel sources used in biomass facilities. Tidd said most of the waste fine was for a fire that occurred at the Livermore Falls facility in the fuel pile.

"Every large emission facility is very tightly regulated," Fontaine said. "It’s very rare to get one without a violation."

"We reject the allegations made by this group on their Website," said Emero. "Our projects are proposed for Vermont, not Maine. Pollution control technology is vastly improved in the last decade, not to mention tighter emissions control by government at the state and local level."

Emero: Not C&D projects

"The Pownal and Fair Haven projects are not C&D-fueled projects, they are designed only to use clean forest and sawmill residue," he added. "The Vermont air pollution control division and the Public Service Board will specifically identify the type of fuel which can be used."

Emero said neither he nor Bousquet have been involved with the Ashland or Livermore Falls plants since 2001.

He said the plants currently burning C&D in Maine were only designed to burn clean wood, and therefore their emissions are higher than they would be if they were built with new technology.

"There is a tremendous disposal issue in New England concerning C&D," Emero said. "In landfills, it takes up large amounts of space causing our landfills to fill up faster creating the need for more landfill. In the landfill it decomposes and releases harmful greenhouse gases, much worse than if burned properly."

He said to curb that problem, Maine permitted the burning of C&D but only in certain percentages. Plants that burn them have pollution controls in place at higher levels than what they are permitted for in case something unexpected comes in with the fuel, such as a treated board or something with lead paint.

The Website also describes an issue the Ashland facility had with the town over its taxes. Emero said at the time the project was owned by General Electric and leased by Alternative Energy, which he worked for at the time. He said Alternative Energy offered to buy the project, but because the electricity was selling for less, it requested a tax abatement from the town, arguing the projects value was tied to the current market. He said the town argued and won.

The site also makes a number of claims about a proposed plant in Athens that Emero was involved in. Emero said there had been a plant there previously, but it was managed poorly and torn down. He said residents there were opposed to the plant Emero and his company proposed, and it was never built.

The company plans to file an application for a certificate of public good with the Public Service Board by Oct. 25. The application will include the finalized data on projected economic, environmental, and aesthetic impacts of the project.

Reach Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com


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