• Biomass plant would hurt Vt
    October 05,2013
     

    A recent opinion piece called our attention to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC finds that since the mid-19th century man-made effects have been the biggest contributors to rising global temperatures and climate change.

    It is important to note that the IPCC is an international panel made up of 256 scientists from 152 countries. It is significant, when reading about the controversial subject of climate change, to also note that in scientific circles the IPCC is considered a relatively conservative body.

    As The Times Argus recently stated, “The latest report is more certain than ever that human activity is largely responsible for climate change and that we will feel the effects for centuries.” The media did a masterful job of distilling the essence of the IPCC report.

    The panel calculated the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that will create dangerous climate impacts. As the newspaper notes, to avoid dangerous increases in temperature no more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon can be tolerated by the atmosphere and oceans. It provides the reader with a scale noting that since the start of the industrial age 250 years ago human activity has produced half a trillion tons, but in only 30 years humans will reach the critical threshold for CO2.

    IPCC and notable environmental activists, including some in Vermont, propose that we should leave the remaining fossil fuel in the ground. The Times Argus opines, however, that “since it will be impossible to simply pull the plug on fossil fuels, sensible choices will have to be made in the short term in order to allow us to make the shift away from fossil fuels in the long term.”

    I applaud the moderation expressed by the newspaper in moving away from fossil fuels at a practicable, realistic pace, while slowing the pace of climate change as we develop sources of clean energy. However, while in its opinion the newspaper realizes the long term and the big picture, it neglects the short term, and the opportunity right here at home where Vermont political leaders and environmentalists can set an example and actually effect positive change.

    Vermont now has a golden, or even better a “green,” opportunity to set an example and actually put its energy and resources where all the talk and political-speak is, and actually lead in the battle against climate change. It can do so by thwarting the proposal for a major greenhouse gas-producing, inefficient and unnecessary whole-tree, wood biomass plant in North Springfield.

    Vermont politicians talk and talk and talk about the perils of greenhouse gas, climate change, about sustainability, about alternative energy and about renewable energy. However, it is all pretty much just talk.

    The governor, Sen. Sanders, Rep. Welch and many other officials talk about greenhouse gas, climate change and clean energy. Politicians are not the only ones, and some prominent environmental activists in Vermont also talk, instead of walk, the green line.

    Here I refer to the pending permit application before the Vermont Public Service Board for a certificate of public good for a wood-burning biomass plant in North Springfield.

    According to the petitioners the biomass plant will produce the same amount of carbon emissions and greenhouse gas as a coal-burning power plant. The North Springfield energy project will produce 447,000 tons of greenhouse gas each year, well over 1,000 tons each day. In the process it will consume 355,000 green tons of wood in the form of whole trees each year, with more than 300,000 tons from Vermont forests.

    Additional pollution and greenhouse gases will come from harvesting operations, transporting and processing the trees into green wood chips.

    Records show that natural gas, which is both cheaper and burns more efficiently than green wood chips, produces less greenhouse gas than does either forest wood biomass or coal.

    The question is, how do Vermont and our state officials who profess concern for the depredations of greenhouse gas, the negative impacts of climate change, and ongoing clamor about clean energy and alternative fuels also fail to challenge the construction of a wood-burning power plant?

    It is virtually impossible to find a state or local politician who will explain their stand on wood biomass energy. And a member of the Springfield Select Board has stated that the board is powerless in this matter and it is up to state officials and the Public Service Board to make the decision, yea or nay, on a new wood-burning power plant.

    The IPCC has unambiguously spoken on the perils of pursuing the energy course we are on. The 900-page report will be released this week.

    For the record, in April the Washington, D.C., federal appeals court upheld a ruling by a lower court to remove the EPA exemption on carbon emissions for wood biomass power plants. In east Texas a newly built biomass power plant sits idle and remains offline due to availability of abundant, cleaner and most of all cheaper natural gas. Construction of a wood biomass in nearby Russell, Mass., was abandoned recently in midstream due to the inability of wood biomass burning to meet state requirements of 50 percent efficiency.

    Here in our state, the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources has removed wood biomass from its list of sustainable sources of energy on its website.

    Vermonters and the press should question our decision makers: How in the world is the state of Vermont and the Public Service Board even considering the construction of a wood biomass power plant that will operate at 26.1 percent efficiency while producinggreenhouse gas, seeking a $40 million tax credit from the federal government and, if built, will burn for the next 50 years?



    Randall Susman lives in North Springfield.

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