Judge: biomass project must go back before ZBA
Recorder file photo Greenfield's proposed biomass plant would be built on Butternut Street in the Interstate 91 Industrial Park.
GREENFIELD — A 47-megawatt wood-burning biomass power plant the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved more than three years ago will have to go back before the board for an amendment to the special permit it was granted.
A Superior Court judge has approved an agreement between opponents of the plant and Madera Energy Inc. of Cambridge, the company that plans to build the Pioneer Renewable Energy plant.
According to the agreement, Madera must present the board with new plans for cooling the plant before the project can move ahead.
Originally, PRE was going to use the town’s treated waste water to cool the plant, but Matthew Wolfe, one of the principles of Madera, announced shortly after receiving the special permit in 2009 that plans had changed and the plant was going to use a dry cooling method.
Opponents have argued since that Wolfe needed to go back to the town to amend the special permit because of the change.
Madera and opponents came to an agreement last week, and the judge agreed and sent Madera back to the ZBA. The judge also asked to see Madera, and those who brought an appeal against the company, back to court on Sept. 9 for an update.
Wolfe has 120 days to schedule a new review of the project with the town’s ZBA, and according to court documents, if he doesn’t schedule within that time, the permit he has will be terminated.
That means he would have to go back before the board and start from scratch.
Susan Weeks, who lives on Adams Road about a mile from where the plant would be built on Butternut Street in the Interstate 91 Industrial Park, said concerned abutters first filed the appeal because they questioned the feasibility and safety of building such a plant so close to a residential area. She said they also didn’t like the idea of using waste water to cool the plant.
“Since that time, more condemning information has emerged,” contends Weeks. “Biomass is no longer considered, by many in Massachusetts, to be either a clean or a green form of generating electricity.”
Weeks said the abutters’ appeal was intended to draw attention to the many health and safety concerns associated, they believe, with biomass plants.
“In June 2010, the town voted overwhelmingly to disallow the sale of sewage waste water for cooling the proposed plant’s enormous burning engines,” said Weeks.
About a month before that vote, Wolfe announced he was no longer going to use treated waste water to cool the plant, but instead was going to use “very large” industrial-size fans to do so.
On March 15, the judge made her decision to send Wolfe back before the board.
Eric Twarog, the town’s planning and development director, said now the town will wait for Wolfe to make the next move.
“If he wants to keep his permit, he’ll have to go before the ZBA again, this time with new plans for cooling,” said Twarog. “He will have to go through the same process as he did last time.”
That will include a public hearing, at which opponents will have another opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns.
“I’m glad abutters and other citizens of Greenfield will finally have this new information,” said Weeks. “There will be much to ponder around health, safety, ecological, economic and other concerns.”
Several calls to Wolfe and his attorney for comment were not returned.
When Wolfe went before the board with his project several years ago, he said the plant would generate enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of 45,000 homes and would bring to town up to 25 permanent jobs, 250 construction jobs, and up to 150 jobs to harvest and transport wood and wood chips.