Pownal Biomass Project May Be On Hold

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(Host)  A panel of experts met at Bennington College last night to consider how a 30 megawatt biomass plant might impact the region’s forests, air, water and communities.

Two such plants are proposed for Vermont – one in Pownal and one in Fair Haven.  But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the Pownal project may be temporarily on hold.

(Keese) A recent study says the potential for sustainably producing power from New England’s forests is likely to be smaller than some earlier projections.

That study is done by the Cary Institute  of Milbrook, New York. Bennington College Ecology Professor Kerry Woods says it’s the best reesarch he’s seen.

(Woods) "Biomass driven  power generation yes probably has an appropriate place in the mix for the northeast. But it’s important to realize that the potential there is probably considerably less than people have come to think. They say the figure was replacing five percent of the coal burnt, a relatively small proportion."

(Keese) The study says unrealistic growth in biomass could lead to serious degradation of the forest.

And it says that while biomass isn’t carbon neutral, it may be preferable, carbon-wise, to fossil fuels. That’s because carbon released from trees returns eventually to the forest, while carbon from fossil fuels has nowhere to return to.

Dick Valentinetti, Vermont’s director of air pollution control, says his department has received an air quality permit application from Beaverwood Energy, that’s the company behind the two proposals.

(Valentinetti) "It’s a good application but I still have some questions about some technical aspects, have they really pushed the envelope as far as they should be on some of these pollution controls"

(Keese) Valentinetti says monitoring the two biomass generating plants already in the state – including the 30 year old McNeil Plant in Burlington – keeps regulators current on anti- pollution technology.

Beaverwood partner Bill Bousquet was in the audience. He says the company only plans to file for permits for the Fair Haven project this year.

(Bousquet) "Because the people in Fair Haven are one hundred percent towards this plant, and the people of Pownal have mixed feelings about the plant. So it’s much easier to go ahead with Fair Haven this year and then we’ll have to see what the legislation does with the energy plan for next year or the year after."

(Keese) Bousquet says lawmakers have been going back and forth on whether, or to what extent, to include biomass in state incentive programs for renewable energy projects.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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