PSB Says Biomass Plants Need Act 250 Approval

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(Host) A Vermont Public Service Board ruling means new hurdles for a company that wants to build "biomass" energy projects.

Beaver Wood Energy wants to build two plants. Each would generate electricity by burning wood left over from logging operations. Both plants would then recycle heat wasted in producing power to manufacture wood pellets for commercial sale.

But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the state says the project needs an extra layer of regulatory review.

(Keese) Electrical generating facilities are exempt from local zoning and land use permitting under the state Act 250 development law.

Instead they need a "certificate of public good" from the Public Service Board. The PSB decides whether a generating project is in the best interests of the whole state.

Beaver Wood Energy has proposed two 29 megawatt biomass power plants. One is in Pownal, but it’s now on hold. The other is in Fair Haven.

The use of woody "biomass" to generate power has been criticized as inefficient because so much energy is wasted in the form of heat and steam. The developer wants to use that heat to create a secondary product: wood pellets for the commercial and home heating industries.

Beaver Wood Energy claims the two processes, generating power and using the waste heat to make pellets, are too connected to require separate reviews under Act 250 and another law governing electric generating projects.

But that’s what the PSB says must happen.

Rutland Attorney Hans Huessy represents Beaver Wood Energy and he says the ruling sends the wrong message.

(Huessy) "To require what is essentially a single project to go through two lengthy land use processes, is simply going to discourage innovative, new renewable energy development in the state. This is an extremely costly and time consuming process and absolutely nothing is gained from an environmental standpoint from requiring this project to get both these permits."

(Keese) The PSB based its decision on the fact that the proposed plants don’t need the pellet operation to generate electricity.

It said it’s not enough that making pellets in the same location increases the efficiency of burning biomass for power.

Ric Morganthal is part of a Pownal citizens group opposed to the project. The group argued that the pellet plant should have an Act 250 review.

(Morganthal) "Anybody else who would be coming up with a business, for instance of producing wood pellets, having a sawmill, would have to come up to 250. And it would be up to the local authorities to determine whether they thought the business was a good fit for the town."

(Keese) Opposition in Pownal and nearby Massachusetts towns has led Beaver Wood Energy to table its project at the former Pownal Race Track in favor of its Fair Haven proposal.

Fair Haven town manager Peter Hathaway says his town is excited about the project.

(Hathaway) "It has the potential to bring some very needed jobs to the town of Fair Haven. You know, we’ve been holding public forums and open houses and there’s a lot of support for the support it will give for the Fair Haven and Rutland County area."

(Keese) On April 15, he says, busloads of local citizens plan to show up in Montpelier to express their support.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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