Biomass opponents ask Town Council for 1-year moratorium
Howard Stone addresses the Zoning Board of Appeals board with his remarks during the biomass public hearing at Greenfield Middle School in JUne 2009. STORY 09/6/15 MacDonald
GREENFIELD — A group of concerned citizens who do not want to see a biomass plant built in Greenfield have asked Town Council to vote to amend the town’s zoning bylaw to impose a moratorium on biomass energy and waste-to-energy facilities for one year.
The group has said it wants more time for the town to investigate biomass before approving any larger projects.
It may mean that Madera Energy Inc. of Cambridge, which wants to build the Pioneer Renewable Energy 47-megawatt wood-burning biomass power plant in the industrial park, may not be able to begin construction before May 2014, but that is not yet clear.
Currently, the town’s Planning Board is reviewing the request for a moratorium and will send its recommendation before the council votes.
“The moratorium does not currently affect the Pioneer Renewable Energy project, though we wish we did,” said Janet Sinclair, a strong opponent of biomass from Shelburne Falls. “We believe that project would not be subject to the moratorium.”
However, the PRE project was approved several years ago, but will go back before the ZBA for an amendment to its special permit. The plant was originally going to be cooled by using the town’s treated waste water, but has decided to use a dry cooling method instead.
Therefore, the ZBA will need to approve the changes.
Matthew Wolfe, one of the principals of Madera, has 120 days to schedule his new presentation before the ZBA for the PRE plant. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The council expects to discuss and vote on the matter at its April meeting.
The Planning Board will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at 114 Main St. to discuss the moratorium.
“This isn’t just about the biomass plant proposed for Greenfield,” said Sinclair. “Groups from all over are helping the efforts to stop these kinds of plants from being built anywhere.”
Sinclair, who spoke out many times during Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals hearings in 2009, said people are afraid that not enough is known about the health and safety risks connected with biomass.
“We’re afraid no one is minding the store,” she said. “A moratorium would give people, and the town, more time to do research and then educate the community. A moratorium would be a great opportunity for the town to get a handle on many of the questions that haven’t been answered yet.”
The moratorium would be on large wood-burning facilities, not households, said Sinclair.
“A solid fuel-fired electric plant represents a legitimate potential threat, and warrants such careful study and consideration as the moratorium suggests,” a letter from Sandri’s Executive Vice President Jake Goodyear to the town reads.
Goodyear said that the proposal, which includes a minimum threshold of 1 million BTUs per hour that a facility could generate, would “eliminate the use of clean, advanced technologies that, in our view, have clear merit over existing fossil fuel heating systems for many local buildings, and have the potential to benefit the Town of Greenfield and the region both economically and environmentally.”
Goodyear said he would like to see the moratorium placed only on grid-connected generating plants that intend to sell wholesale electricity.
Sandri currently sells and installs full-automated, high-efficiency pellet boiler systems from residential sizes to boilers that serve large businesses and institutions (up to 10 million BTUs per hour).
Sinclair’s answer to that is that keeping it at 1 million BTUs per hour would give a committee appointed by the council a year to investigate. She said that petitioners want to see the wording in the moratorium voted on as is.
Sinclair said as discussions on the moratorium move forward with the Planning Board, petitioners would also like to see Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner recuse herself, because her daughter works for Sandri.
It does not appear that Wedegartner, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, has decided to recuse herself.