“To have a good market for a true low-grade byproduct can be a valuable thing for landowners in that area,” Niebling said.
Several local colleges and other public institutions have built biomass plants or proposed them in the last several years. An existing plant at Middlebury and a proposed plant at Dartmouth have been criticized by environmentalists who say they pollute in much the same way that a fossil fuel-fired plant does.
Niebling said that the Dartmouth scientists’ arguments were based on utility-scale power generation. “They made assumptions about the carbon profile of Dartmouth’s project that are not factual,” he said. “If the fuel is sourced locally and used efficiently, it’s going to have a pretty favorable carbon profile.”
He added that the woody biomass would displace 3.5 million gallons of oil burned at Dartmouth every year. “I think a lot of anti-biomass advocacy is really ultimately borne out of concern, angst, and fear over cutting trees for any purpose,” he said. “And much of it comes from people who use trees every day.”
As for the proposed biomass plant at LFP, Niebling said the facility will have very sophisticated emission controls. “Peoples’ perception of wood emissions is colored by their neighbor’s old smoke-belching wood boiler,” he said. But the substance arising from the smokestack in Brattleboro, he said, will be steam, not particulate matter. “They’ll need a permit from the state of Vermont, and the state will be in a position to insist on certain controls,” he said.
The Northern Border Regional Commission receives annual appropriations from Congress to work on economic and community in economically struggling counties of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Last year, Congress directed the group to address areas of need in the forest industry, said Program Director Christine Frost.
“Where traditionally we were funding projects at a municipal level, we were trying to get at, ‘How do we a larger impact across the four states?’” Frost said. “In the biomass facility, they would be looking at drawing from a 50-mile radius for that low-grade wood in order to power that plant. In addition, the actual pulp comes from the state of Maine. It really was more of an interstate impact.”