Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Guest Column: Domtar Biomass Power Project Would be Huge Polluter

The Paper Planet welcomes a guest column by Meg Sheehan of the Biomass Accountability Project, which is working with local citizens who argue that a planned biomass burner in Rothschild, Wisconsin would threaten the health of the community and children at a nearby school, and is not needed to meet energy demand.  

Experts have developed a detailed analysis of the air permit application for the Domtar/We Energies, 50 megawatt biomass-fueled power plant in Rothschild, Wisconsin. The analysis finds that the facility will increase air pollution in the community and will almost certainly throw the region into violation of Clean Air Act standards. The plant will threaten the health of children at an elementary school adjacent to the plant, says the analysis, and increase greenhouse gas emissions in contradiction of state renewable energy goals.

The Biomass Accountability Project has found that Americans know that clean energy doesn't come out of a smokestack.   The organization is working with citizens nationwide to stop biomass power plants and is one of the authors on the analysis.

Domtar has five billion in annual revenues, yet they are skimping on pollution controls.  Located in a residential community, the Domtar biomass burner will spew out highly toxic chemicals that will cause Wisconsin citizens to suffer increased asthma, heart disease, cancer and more. Governor Walker should save taxpayer money and protect the public health by stopping this project.

“Domtar is a prime example of everything wrong with biomass electricity generation,” said Mary Booth, PhD, of the Partnership for Policy Integrity. The analysis, which was developed by the Partnership for Policy Integrity and the Biomass Accountability Project, concludes that the plant should not be built.

According to an analysis by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “The proposed project is not needed to meet WEPCO‘s near-term energy or capacity needs.” It is instead being built to meet “renewable” energy generation goals in Wisconsin.

“At a time when Wisconsin is struggling with a budget, this project wastes more taxpayer and ratepayer money, and will drive up our health care costs,” said Paul Schwantes, co-chair of Save Our Air Resources, a group of over 1,000 Wisconsin citizens seeking to protect the public health and ensure fiscally responsible renewable energy. “Our comments on the air permit show that the air pollution from this so-called ‘renewable’ project are a toxic soup of the most dangerous pollutants known to science."

Although considered renewable by the State, emissions numbers from the air permit show that burning biomass to generate electricity is less efficient and many times more polluting than natural gas. In fact, Domtar’s biomass burner will emit similar amounts of particulate matter, sulfur, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants as a coal plant, under the air permit conditions set by DNR.

The DNR is not requiring Domtar to install the most effective available pollution control technologies at the plant, due to claims by the company that pollution control technologies will cost too much.

As a result, DNR further estimates that dangerous particulate matter (PM) emissions from Domtar will put air pollution in the region at 99% of the health standard set by EPA.  As recognized in an environmental assessment conducted by DNR, high air pollution in the region may also restrict economic growth in the area by making it difficult to issue air pollution permits for other businesses. Because the plant will burn wastewater residue from the Domtar paper mill and construction and demolition debris, emissions of toxic air pollutants like lead, chromium, arsenic, and dioxin will also increase.

The We Energies/Domtar project will also produce substantial greenhouse gas emissions, which the permit sets 3,120 pounds per megawatt-hour, more than six times the 510 pounds per megawatt-hour allowed for the facility’s new natural gas burner.

Claims by We Energies and Domtar that the facility will create jobs are not supported by a analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which concluded that logging and trucking jobs associated with bringing wood fuel to the plant “may or may not be new jobs… there may not be any significant increase in permanent jobs in the Wausau area after the plant was placed in operation.” Once operational, the Domtar biomass burner will be eligible for ratepayer-funded renewable energy credits and a cash grant in lieu of tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

For more information:
SOAR website: www.nobiomassburn.org

Air permit comments found at: www.nobiomassburning.org/citizen_stories.html


Anonymous said...

''The Biomass Accountability Project has found that Americans know that clean energy doesn't come out of a smokestack''.

From the above statement, it is clear you lack understanding of this technology.


Papyrus said...

Thanks for participating in the conversation Clem. Could you be more specific?

Anonymous said...

I am very curious about what Domtar is doing around the world, as I just moved to a small town that hosts one of its large papermills, whose emissions are sickening.Depending on how the wind blows and the humidity, the odors initially just seemed foul, but now the chest pressure I am experiencing is causing my asthma and heart to act up. I'd like to see what actions are being taken to clean the air and to find out if the actions are unilateral or regional, as far as stopping the pollution or at least cleaning it up to not be a public health hazard, as I suspect it is here in Johnsonburg Pa. I wonder if there could be some sort of catalytic converters made for the smoke stacks or some type of filters so the emissions could be cleaned up.