• GMP is ignorant about biomass
    January 29,2014
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    I hope everyone had a chance to read Mary Powell’s commentary on energy, “Innovation and sustainability,” in the Herald on Jan. 24.

    Recently, many residents and concerned citizens in the greater Springfield community wrote to Powell to urge her and our electric

    company, Green Mountain Power, to refrain from signing a power purchase agreement with the North Springfield Energy Project. We residents and customers

    received nebulous and “unresponsive” responses to our letters and phone calls from GMP.

    However, in Thursday’s Herald, in Paragraph 7 of her commentary, Powell clearly comes out in favor of biomass electric power. In that paragraph, Powell writes, “We will continue to invest in renewable energy. Developing an energy mix that is rich with locally generated, renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectricity and biomass is a critical piece of our strategy to hold down costs over time.” Powell’s inclusion of biomass in her list of renewables is disappointing, but the worst part of her statement may be that she apparently hasn’t taken the time to update her thinking on wood biomass and bring her position in line with all the latest science on biomass and the threats biomass poses to the environment (see the article on the importance of old-tree growth in the journal Nature last week), the lack of sustainability and carbon neutrality (Detlef-Schulze et al., Global Change Biology, Bioenergy (2012) 4, 611–616), and threats to human health and safety (see position statement by the American Lung Association on the North Springfield project) regarding wood-biomass power.

    After the vague responses in emails by GMP employees to our letters that left the reader with the impression that GMP was stonewalling on the power purchase agreement with the North Springfield project, the commentary in the Herald revealed that Powell and GMP have a) not taken the time nor made the effort to study biomass and distinguish biomass from other truly renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal, b) she does not prioritize clean vs. dirty energy and thus, c) she does not prioritize the health and safety of Vermonters and, d) she does not understand (or ignores the fact) that in Texas, Vermont, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, biomass energy is relatively expensive and thus these “renewable” energy projects resort to burning nonrenewable fossil fuels as dictated by cheaper fossil fuel prices, not the least of which is the 250-year supply of cheap and abundant and natural gas in the U.S. Powell also probably does not appreciate that 70 percent of the power that the McNeil plant in Burlington produced in its early years came from fossil fuel and at least one source reports that more recently roughly 30 percent of the energy McNeil produces comes from greenhouse-gas producing, nonrenewable fossil fuel.

    All of our attempts to query Powell to learn the position of GMP about its position on wood biomass and to exhort the company not to rely on wood biomass seem to have been for naught, and with her publication, we now understand where GMP stands on the subject of wood-biomass electricity, on her regard for the concerns of Vermonters and GMP customers, and her position on the low priority of clean vs. dirty energy and greenhouse gas in the GMP energy sourcing calculus.

    As for Powell’s commentary on “Innovation and Sustainability,” wood-biomass power is old news. It is not “innovative.” It is an archaic and out-of-date technology. Neither is it “sustainable” in its effect on Vermont’s forest as the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has testified. While other more enlightened power companies in Vermont have chosen not to sign power purchase agreements with the North Springfield Energy Project, Green Mountain Power is acting otherwise. Green Mountain Power is undeserving of its namesake.

    Randall Susman is a resident of North Springfield.
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