Tuesday, March 01, 2016
BUCKLAND — While Mohawk school officials weigh the advantages of replacing the Mohawk Trail Regional School’s propane-powered boilers with biomass pellet-fueled boilers, regional Health Agent Glen Ayers called for an emissions study, comparing particulates emitted by Mohawk’s current boilers with those of the proposed pellet system. He wanted a health impact analysis assessment.
Ayers pointed out that the fairly new John Olver Transportation Center, where he works, has a pellet system that emits blue smoke and “smells like a woodstove,” and is smaller than the system proposed for Mohawk. Ayers, the Franklin Regional Council of Government health agent for several Mohawk member towns, said pellet heating systems are “a much more pollution prone source of heat” than oil or propane.
“We’re in a valley; we have air inversions. Schools have a highly susceptible population,” Ayers said, mentioning conditions such as asthma. “Students would be exposed (to particulates) five days a week.”
Ayers’ remarks came after ecologist Mary Stuart Booth, director of Partnership for Policy Integrity, questioned the so-called “carbon neutrality” of pellet stoves, given the high-energy required to manufacture and transport wood pellets. Booth said there are no standards for how the pellets are made, and that the high demand for wood-pellet stoves and boilers is resulting in clear-cutting of forests to meet the demand. Also, she said, heavy metals and toxins from demolition wood have been found in some analysis of pellet emissions.
Rob Rizzo with the state Department of Energy Resources refuted Booth’s assertions that poor-quality pellets would be burned at Mohawk or other Massachusetts schools. He said the state is proposing regulations that will require sources of pellet fuel to come from sustainable forests.
Janet Sinclair of Buckland said there are no rules regarding pellet quality under the SAPHIRE (Schools and Public Housing Integrating Renewables and Efficiency) grant program, which has already awarded grants for pellet systems at Heath and the Hawlemont Regional School. Mohawk has also applied for a SAPHIRE grant for Sanderson Academy and Mohawk Trail Regional School.
Rizzo said the grant requires recipients to meet standards regarding the fuel source.
Sinclair, who fought against a proposed biomass plant in Greenfield, invited Booth to give “a second opinion” on the pellet boiler project, after hearing a positive summary of the proposal at an earlier School Building Subcommittee meeting.
“The point is, this is a very rose-colored glasses view of this proposal,” Booth said of a “Biomass Boiler and Solar PV Study” done in December.
“If you want toy get a wood boiler for this school, get a wood boiler. But keep carbon emissions out of it,” said Booth. “You’re talking about your kids and your kids’ respiratory health.”