Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Protests Grow in Southern Vermont. About Biomass.

The Biomass Facility

Pownal Vermont is the proposed home of a 29 MW biomass plant and wood pellet facility. Like Vernon, home of Vermont Yankee, Pownal is in southern Vermont, close to the Massachusetts border. Pownal is in the western half of Vermont, near New York State, while Vernon is in the eastern half, near New Hampshire.

People in Pownal and neighboring Massachusetts are vigorously protesting the biomass plant. About eighteen protesters recently lined the road to the proposed plant (there's a great picture in that link). At meetings in local churches, groups against biomass have described many possible hazards, including:
  • biomass plants used as incinerators
  • biomass plants starting fires in neighboring areas
  • particulate from biomass escaping the very best scrubbers, and lodging in people's lungs
A biomass opposition website contains extensive information about the hazards of biomass, along with specific ideas on how to fight this plant. Plant opponents also attack the safety record of the company proposing to build the plant.

If the company breaks ground for the plant before the end of the year, the developers may be eligible for $50 to $80 million in federal grants. Naturally, plant opponents are eager to slow them down. As Vermont Digger reports: Pownal resident Doreen Forney said she wants to see the process slowed. “At least be thorough with your investigation of this company,” she said. However, it is not just this company that is the problem. Vermont Digger reports that Rachel Smolker of Biofuel Watch Group states that “Big oil sees this (biomass) as a way out of their oil dilemma...There are a lot of powers at play here,””

Still, some local residents want the plant. Others feel that biomass money should be used for solar and wind power instead.


Why does this all sound so very familiar?

I give thanks that I don't plan to investigate the pros and cons of this biomass plant.

It is interesting to observe yet more excitement about power plants on the Vermont/Massachusetts border. That is why I decided to blog about this protest. But I'm not going any further with this.

For electric power production, I prefer heat engines based on nuclear fission. I'm going to leave it at that.


Jeff Schmidt said...

Meredith: I hope you and yours had a Happy Thanksgiving, filled with blessings.

As for the biomass protesters - I realized at some point, that no matter what anyone proposes to do, *someone* will protest it. That's just sort of the nature of life. Someone could propose to give free flowers to Gold Star Mothers, and someone would protest that you were going to increase their risk of allergic reaction by giving them the flowers.

David said...

I just finished doing research for a different company that wanted to put up a biomass to energy plant in the midwest. We were a bit behind another company who wanted to do the same thing a few counties over. We found that there is a group of people from Boston who visit EVERY biomass plant and stir up protests, work to increase costs and try to stop local governments from giving permission to operate.

I think they are funded by the fossil fuel industry.

From my research I found a way to do a close loop plant that would be long term sustainable - as long as maintenance was done on the equipment. We did not move forward because the price of electric in this area - without matching grants in this state - was too low to pay the cost of capital for the first ten years.

I see only two sustainable long term options to replace - yes - replace fossil fuels. Biomass and Nuclear. Yet, somehow these are both too dangerous to use.

I do wish I had been able to prove the business case for this, it would have been fun to take on the protesters. But I will go quietly on to my Nuclear Engineering classes next year....

al fin said...

There are teeming hives of such protest-for-hire located in various parts of North America from Austin to Boston to Eugene.

I doubt that fossil fuels producers put a lot of money into the effort. More likely faux environmental groups who are eager to disqualify any potential sources of energy that are more viable than their precious wind and solar.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you all for your comments. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving in New York. George and I visited our children and grandchildren. I brought squash from my garden (and other foods), our sophisticated children brought an amazing pumpkin cheesecake from a fancy New York bakery, the turkey was spectacular, and I was truly grateful. For being there. For seeing everyone. For everything.

Thank you all for your comments. I think that biomass cogeneration has a real role to play in the Northeast. But I can only fight one battle at a time.

Mark said...

I wish there were a way to make these people freeze in the dark. The 21st century beats the crap out of the 19th, but it requires electricity. If they don't want it, fine, don't use it.

I would really appreciate not being cold all winter to keep my energy bills sane. Build it near me; I'm fine with that.

On the other hand, they do have a point that burning wood is very 19th century and does not have a good record for particulates.

Solar, in the Northeast?!?

Engineer-Poet said...

I don't find it likely that fossil interests would waste time opposing biomass plants.  There just isn't enough biomass to replace coal and natural gas, and anyone who can use a spreadsheet knows it.  The only competition is wind and nuclear.

Biomass and nuclear may actually play well together.  Nuclear heat can gasify wet biomass in supercritical water.  The products of gasifying glucose in water at 600°C are H2, CO2, CO and C1-C3 hydrocarbons with about 98% conversion.  Propane is good for a lot of things, ethane and ethylene are good chemical feedstocks, methane is heating fuel, and the H2 and CO are feedstock to make methanol.  Excess CO can be steam-reformed to H2 or used as fuel, and CO2 can be sequestered or used for enhanced oil recovery.  See archive/Files/40_2_ANAHEIM_04-95_0304.pdf

Using nuclear energy to convert biomass to chemical feedstocks and motor fuel would yield a lot more value (and displace a lot more carbon and imported oil) than biomass-to-electric.  It might even be a good way to dispose of municipal garbage.  Something to think about... I am.

Meredith Angwin said...

Mark, thank you for the comments. Solar in the Northeast? It is not cost-effective, but as long as there are 30 cents per kWh feed-in tariffs, people will build solar here.

Engineer-Poet. Yes, biomass and nuclear could play well together, with the biomass thought of mostly feedstock, rather than mostly Carnot-cycle fuel.

John smith said...

Biomass is biological material derived from living , or recently living organisms. Biomass heating systems generate heat from biomass. Biomass boilers burn bark, sander dust and other wood-related scrap not usable in product production. Good information. Thanks a lot.
Biomass Boilers