Our Work

PSB Denies N. Springfield Biomass Electric Plant

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, the Public Service Board (PSB) issued a precedent-setting decision denying a permit for a proposed 35 MW woody biomass power plant in North Springfield.

Since the North Springfield project was the first wood fired electricity generating plant to seek a permit in several decades, VNRC intervened in the case, along with National Wildlife Federation, to ensure that the proposed project would safeguard forest health, use our forest resources efficiently, and not unduly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

On Tuesday, the Board ruled that the expected greenhouse gas emissions of the plant (448,714 tons of CO2 per year), in tandem with the project’s low level of thermal efficiency would not promote the general good of the state. The Board also ruled that the expected traffic from delivery trucks would not comply with the orderly development of the region project.

In a lengthy decision, the Board also ruled the project did not meet the “need” criterion because (1) the project did not provide a benefit to Vermont because the Applicant had not secured a contract with a Vermont utility; (2) there was no evidence in the record that the project would meet regional Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements over the 50 year duration of the project, and (3) the project would not comply with the state’s renewable energy goals of reducing climate change and displacing the emissions of pollutants (including greenhouse gas emissions).  It is important to note that the Applicant merely claimed that the project would be carbon neutral, but did not provide any evidence on how the project would fit within the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. The Board validated that the more efficient use of wood for energy would be more in step with the state’s renewable energy goals.

Finally, the Board ruled that without adequate harvesting measures to ensure that forest health would be maintained, the project would have an undue adverse impact on Vermont’s forests. The Applicant did agree to follow improved harvesting guidelines in an MOU with the State Agency of Natural Resources.

The ruling does not necessarily mean that a future biomass electricity generating plant will not be permitted in Vermont, but any proposed project will likely have to perform a carbon accounting to meet their burden of demonstrating a public good, and a future project will need to demonstrate how it meets our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction target goals, in addition to implementing adequate harvesting guidelines to address forest health.

The Board’s ruling creates statewide precedent and raises the bar for sustainable and more efficient utilization of woody biomass in Vermont.

For more information contact Jamey Fidel, General Counsel and Forest and Wildlife Program Director at jfidel@vnrc.org.