Wednesday January 9, 2013

WESTMINSTER -- As developers for a proposed North Springfield biomass energy plant continue working to get their permits, a Windham County resident says the proposed project will have effects far beyond it's location in Windsor County.

Winstanley Enterprises LLC and Weston Solutions Inc. want to build a 35 megawatt wood chip fueled power plant on a 20 acre parcel at 36 Precision Drive in North Springfield.

If the plant is built it will burn wood chips to produce electricity which developers say could power all of the homes in Windsor County.

Developers are working their way through the Certificate of Public Good process with the Public Service Board. The PSB is collecting information until Jan. 11 and will open hearings soon after that.

Developers hope to break ground in the summer.

On Saturday, Jan. 12 at 1 p.m. the North Springfield Action Group, a group opposed to the project, will hold an informational gathering at 871 French Meadow Road, which is near the proposed plant.

Jan Ameen, who lives in Westminster, said residents in Windham County, and around Vermont, should be paying close attention to the project.

"If this plant is built there will be significant environmental and economic impacts for everyone, not just for Springfield," Ameen said. "It could create health issues for the people of WIndham County as well. We all know that air pollution does not stay in one place."

If it is built, the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project, or NSSEP, will have a 140 foot tall exhaust stack and the plant is expected to burn up to 420,500 tons of forest biomass per year.

Ameen said emissions from the plant would travel across the region, threatening the environment and people's health

"Overall it would produce more greenhouse gases than a coal plant," Ameen said. "People accept woodstoves, but this is on a much larger scale. It really magnifies the pollution."

Dan Ingold of Weston Solutions, the senior technical director of the project, said NSSEP already has its draft air permit from the state.

He said the plant will have all of the most modern filters in place and once the plant is operational its impact on air quality will be far less than an equivalent coal fired plant that produces the same amount of electricity.

"Vermont has the toughest air quality standards in the nation and we meet and exceed all state and federal rules and regulations," he said.

Ingold lives in Guilford, and he said he got involved with the project after learning how it would help the state move ahead on its plan to create more of its energy in state.

Ameen also said that the plant would drive up the cost of cord wood, adding that many low income Vermonters rely on local wood to heat their homes. Ameen said the plant could use up to 550 cords a day, which would eventually affect the availability and cost of wood in the region.

And she said as the plant brings in wood from out of state there will be a greater potential to introduce invasive insects into Vermont.

"This is not a wood stove we are talking about in winter," Ameen said. "This would operate every day, every year for decades. There are a whole host of issues here. Everyone in the state should be concerned about this."

She also said the plant uses a lot of water and she said the ash from the plant would include toxins from the dirty wood that she says will inevitably be included in what the plant burns.

"This is not an intelligent use of resources," Ameen said. "It's a way for a company to make money and create environmental damage."

According to Ingold, the company has been working with its neighbors from the start and the proposed plant provides benefits far beyond producing energy from a local wood product.

Excess hot water will be offered at reduced rates which Ingold said would spur development in the area, and the extra heat might also be used for a new residential heating district which would also help the local tax base.

"This is a great opportunity for Vermont to take responsibility for its own energy generation," Ingold said. "It's cleaner than fossil fuels and it's half the cost. There is a lot of misinformation out there and we are trying to make sure people get the whole story."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.