(from left, Matera, Lister, Smolker)
UPDATED: Nov. 25, with clarification and reference to Tom Greenwood comment.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Public-owned forests will be under pressure from clear-cutting proponents, and little additional electricity will be generated compared to environmental and health risks, three panelists told a crowd of more than 50 people on Saturday during an information session at a church here about a proposed Pownal, Vt., biomass-to-electric generating station.
A group calling itself the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition organized the event at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, which abuts Pownal, where an abandoned racetrack site on U.S. Route 7 is proposed by Beaver Wood Energy, LLC as the site for a 29.5-megawatt, wood-burning generating station. The citizens coalition, which describes its view of the proposal, invited as speakers:
- Chris Matera, a civil engineer from Northampton, Mass., who is part of a group called Massachusetts Forest Watch (firstname.lastname@example.org / 413-341-3878. See: http://www.maforests.org/MFWCarb.pdf
- Rachel Smolker, who works for a British non-profit, BiofuelWatch.org, and lives near Burlington, Vt. (email@example.com / 802-482-2848.
- Hillary Lister, of Athens, Maine, a library and movie-theater worker who lead that town's opposition to a wood-and-construction-waste burning biomass plant not far from Skowhegan. (firstname.lastname@example.org / 207-649-5980.
People proposing Pownal plant were involved in a plant in Maine, said Lister. She recited a litany of alleged emissions violations, threats to pull jobs, and fly ash from the plant given to nearby farms which had nails in it from the burning of construction debris. Lister termed the process "More like a snake oil sales... Dependent on subsidies." She asserted, based upon her experience in Maine: "They are going to do anything they can to get out of paying taxes."
Lister said small particulates from GenPower plant dangerous to lungs; ultimately Maine town banned construction-debris burning. She described fuel-pile fires, mishaps at Maine plants, says constuction debris burned, and a nearby school had to end outdoor recesses.
Smolker, in her comments, focused on U.S. and world policies which have driven support of biomass projects.
Matera focused in his comments on the effects of forest clear cutting, using photos set to music and showing before/after scenes of forest stands leveled. He alleged a pattern of illegal clear-cutting in Massachusetts' state-owned forests and said officials tend not to enforce rules until the media is brought into the picture. There are five wood-burning power plants proposed for Western Massachusetts, says Matera, and if they were all built he believes pressure to accelerate forest cutting would increase in order to supply them because their woodshed areas overlap. If there isn't enough forest-cut wood, said Matera, plans will want to switch to burning construction waste instead.
Matera says Massachusetts by law forbids wood cutting on six percent of state-owned lands -- vs. 20 percent in New York State.
Besides the speakers, audience members asked questions, and a Williams College economist, Prof. William Gentry (email@example.com / 802-823-5534) , who lives in Pownal, spoke briefly. The event was introduced and closed by Tom Greenwood, a property manager from New Ashford, Mass. (firstname.lastname@example.org / 413-458-8080).
Greenwood said the Bennington-Berkshire group was gathering information about the Pownal plant proposal but stated no formal position on it. (see comment below) A second group, Southern Vermont Against Biomass, maintains a Facebook page.