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February 11, 2014. Source: Partnership for Policy Integrity

McNeil biomass plant in Burlington, Vermont. Photo: Josh Schlossberg

McNeil biomass plant in Burlington, Vermont. Photo: Josh Schlossberg

In a final decision reached today on the fate of the 35 MW North Springfield Sustainable Energy biomass plant proposed in Vermont, the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) denied the plant a certificate of public good, stating that the project would interfere with the State’s ability to meet statutory goals for reducing greenhouse gases “as a result of the large annual releases of greenhouse gases that would result from combustion of the wood fuel.”

“This is an important decision for the state of Vermont, and nationally”, said Mary Booth, Director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, an organization that helped the citizen opponents, the North Springfield Action Group, contest the facility in front of the PSB.  “When policymakers see that bioenergy involves harvesting forests and burning the wood in low-efficiency power plants, they conclude that large-scale bioenergy isn’t compatible with greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

The 35 MW plant would have burned 450,000  tons of wood a year, most of which would have been sourced from whole-tree harvesting.  Carbon dioxide emissions would have been over 445,000 tons per year.  While the developer claimed there would be a greenhouse gas benefit, they testified they had not actually done any analysis to demonstrate a reduction in emissions.

Vermont has established a statutory goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% from 1990 levels by 2028.

While the biomass project planned to use some thermal energy to provide heat for businesses in the industrial park where it was to be located, the plant’s peak efficiency still would have been around 28%. The average efficiency of the US coal fleet is 33%.

The PSB concluded that “the evidentiary record supports a finding that the Project would release as much as 448,714 tons of CO2e per year, and that sequestration of those greenhouse gases would not occur until future years, possibly not for decades, and would not occur at all in the case of forest-regeneration failures.”

The PSB also found insufficient evidence that the project was needed, stating that it would be more cost effective to do energy conservation, efficiency, and load-management measures.

See the Public Service Board decision here.