Gov. Shumlin and Sen. Brock took opposite sides in the recent debate on Vermont’s energy future in Burlington. Gov. Shumlin is, and has been, an outspoken advocate for curbing greenhouse gases. On July 7, the governor and leaders in the Northeast and Canada pledged to work to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Our governor has taken a leadership role in support of not only curbing greenhouse gases, but also energy security, jobs and with them, a healthier future for Vermonters.
Despite these efforts a Massachusetts developer is planning to build a biomass power plant in Springfield. The Springfield plan is contrary to the governor’s objectives. The Springfield project calls for a giant 35 Mw wood-burning biomass plant. This proposal is now under review by the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources and by the permit-granting agency, the Public Service Board. The PSB is being asked to issue a “Certificate of Public Good.” But we, the public, fail to see the good. In fact, there is nothing in the way of public good as determined by the governor’s own yardstick. While governor’s own Department of Public Service has testified that the North Springfield project will be “neutral” on greenhouse gas emissions, available emissions data show the opposite, that the plant will produce 1,176 tons of greenhouse gas each day, 429,000 tons of greenhouse gas each year, and an incredible 21,470,000 tons of greenhouse gas over its lifetime. More than 1,175 tons of greenhouse gas emitted into Vermont’s air each day.
Just as troubling is the fact that the plant will operate at a mere 26 percent efficiency. And data also show that the Northeast now has an excess electrical capacity totaling 3,000 Mw (a number that comes from the most recent New England Forward Capacity Market auction). At what point do we stop ans ask, “does Vermont really need yet another inefficient, GHG-emitting power plant?” If the carbon emission numbers are not alarming enough, people who actually live in Vermont should also fear the particulate emissions, the main culprits in respiratory diseases and emergency room visits. The proposed plant will be located in the midst of the residential-agricultural and mixed-use areas of North Springfield where 700 people reside and hundreds more work. Wood will arrive from an estimated 100 to 200 tractor trailers each day. Large trucks will travel through the community past homes, past day care centers of which there are three in North Springfield, and past small businesses.
In addition to carbon emissions trucks will spread road dust and they will leave behind waste ash. All of these facts explain why studies based on data provided by industry conclude that these biomass plants should not be built in residential areas. Not surprisingly, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, as well as medical societies across the country take positions against biomass and biomass pollution.
The governor’s position on clean energy offers Vermonters great hope. But the threat of greenhouse gas and pollution from biomass in Vermont dims the hopes of many Vermonters. The developer’s Springfield plan defies the governor’s objectives and instead pushes Vermont to the lead in inefficient biomass energy — not clean energy. Wood biomass burning and clean energy are mutually exclusive.
Vermonters should applaud Gov. Shumlin’s energy plan. The governor’s plan is visionary. It is difficult to imagine how the governor’s clean-energy policy can co-exist with wood-burning biomass and its prodigious greenhouse gas emissions. Biomass combustion is dirtier than that of natural gas.
If Vermont is to lead in the drive toward a clean-energy future we need to curb, not promote, the needless and inefficient production of greenhouse gases and particulates that issue from notoriously inefficient biomass burning.
Randall Susman lives in North Springfield.MORE IN Commentary
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