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Biomass Plant Suffers Setback During Review

Hearing Officer: Truck Traffic Would Impact North Springfield

North Springfield, Vt. — In a major blow to the proposed North Springfield biomass electric generating plant, a hearing officer for the Vermont Public Service Board has recommended that the project be denied a state certificate of public good.

In a 124-page ruling released late Friday afternoon, PSB hearing officer John Cotter said that impacts from truck traffic was the reason he was recommending the project be denied.

The project will “unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region based on its trucking-related impacts to the local community,” he wrote.

“I am cognizant of the fact that the project would provide measurable benefits to the surrounding community and the state as a whole if it were constructed and operated,” Cotter wrote, citing increased jobs, wages and tax revenues.

“I cannot conclude that there are reasonable conditions that could be imposed to alleviate the undue impacts of the significant increase in truck traffic on two local streets leading to the entrance of the North Springfield Industrial Park,” he added.

If the three-person PSB doesn’t adopt his recommendation, Cotter wrote, it should impose many conditions on the permit.

Earlier this year, the town of Springfield entered into an agreement with the developers of the wood-fired plant over the construction of a new access road to the project.

The North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project, a joint project of Winstanley Enterprises and Weston Solutions, wants to build a 37-megawatt wood-fired power plant in the North Springfield Industrial Park. Wood chips would be trucked to the project, which would be built next to the former Fellows Corp. building, now owned and operated by Winstanley.

The project would also produce low-cost steam heat for the businesses in the industrial park, as well as a thermal loop for residences in an area of North Springfield.

But nearby residents formed the North Springfield Action Group to fight the project, saying it would be a blight on the landscape, as well as pumping tons of toxic pollutants and particulate into the atmosphere, harming the region’s air quality.

They also raised questions about truck traffic and impact on the area’s groundwater.

Cotter’s recommendation explicitly said that his finding on the North Springfield project was not an indictment of all wood-based biomass projects in Vermont.

“Nothing in this proposal for decision should be construed to mean I have concluded that no commercial-scale, woody-biomass electric generation facility could be approved for construction and operation in Vermont,” he wrote. “To the contrary, I recognize that, as a general proposition, a woody-biomass electric generation facility could occupy an appropriate place in Vermont’s energy portfolio.”

Robert Kischko, president of the North Springfield Action Group, said he was pleased with Cotter’s recommendation, and declined further comment.

“The North Springfield Action Group will not have any additional comments at this time other than we are extremely pleased with the hearing officer’s recommendation to deny the project,” he said.

He said the group will provide additional commentary to the PSB, as requested by Cotter.

Dan Ingold, senior technical director for Weston Solutions and spokesman for the project, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday evening.

Last week Ingold told the annual meeting of Springfield Regional Development Corp. that he expected a favorable ruling from the PSB board “in a week or two” and that construction on the project would begin next spring.

Ingold said the construction work would bring 600 jobs to the region, with a full-time staff of 25 people at the facility, and dozens more in the wood industry. The 124-page decision came after a series of lengthy hearings that were held before Cotter and other PSB employees, but not the three-member board itself.