Bennington Banner: Beaver Wood sees setback PSB: We have no jurisdiction over pellet manufacturing side

Apr 05, 2011 No Comments by

Reposted here from the Bennington Banner.

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Posted: 04/04/2011 10:59:16 PM EDT

 

Monday April 4, 2011

POWNAL — A company proposing two 29.5-megawatt biomass and wood pellet factories in Pownal and Fair Haven has been dealt another setback.

 

The Public Service Board entered a decision Friday ruling that it does not hold jurisdiction over the wood pellet manufacturing side of the facilities.

 

In Vermont, under Section 248, the PSB has jurisdiction over facilities that produce electricity, but non-electric commercial operations of a certain size fall under Act 250 environmental commissions.

 

Beaver Wood Energy’s proposed facilities called into question which permitting process should be used. According to Beaver Wood, the facilities would use “waste wood” from logging operations, and what couldn’t be used for wood pellets would be burned to make electricity; meanwhile excess heat from the power plant would be used to dry the pellets.

 

Both processes take into account environmental impacts, but Section 248 also examines economic factors as well as the affect on the power grid. Act 250 does not exempt a project from local zoning, and in most cases if a project has triggered the need for an Act 250 hearing, it also requires local zoning permits.

 

Hans Huessy, of Kenlan Schwieber Facey & Goss, P.C., a Rutland firm representing Beaver Wood, said the PSB decision is disappointing as it could lead to a long, more complex and expensive permitting process.

 

He said the company will now assess the likelihood of obtaining an Act 250 permit as well as local zoning permissions. There’s an estimated 60 to 70 percent overlap between the work done for the Section 248 permit and what an Act 250 permit would require, Huessy said.

Another option on the table for Beaver Wood is simply going forward with the biomass plant and leaving out the pellet factory.

 

According to its order, the PSB is requesting a filing from Beaver Wood indicating what it will do next by April 18.

 

The company announced a few weeks ago that it would suspend the permitting process for the proposed Pownal facility and would go forward with the Fair Haven project alone because of the market for biomass power in the state and the public response, which has been significantly more favorable in Fair Haven than Pownal.

 

For a number of reasons, the Maine-based company asserted that the PSB should hold jurisdiction over both operations and view them as one, however they were opposed by Williamstown, Mass., and the citizen group, Southern Vermont Citizens for Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Energy Inc., which said each facility was separate, and therefore not subject to just one permitting process.

 

Beaver Wood cited a 1971 opinion by the Attorney General that exempted aspect of electrical generation projects that bore a “Reasonable relationship and can be considered to be a part of and electric transmission or generation facility, having in mind the broad meaning to be ascribed to the word ‘facility.'”

 

The company also argued that having to go through both permits would be redundant, and it that it would impossible to determine which environmental impacts stemmed from which project, as they are so closely related. The company contended that the reviewers of each process must reach conflicting conclusions, thereby putting an impossible decision before the Vermont Supreme Court.

 

Williamstown and the SVC disagreed, saying the pellet facility does nothing toward the production of electricity and that it lies beyond the powers given to the PSB by statute.

 

In its decision, the PSB said the pellet facility isn’t integrated enough with the operations of the biomass plant to be considered necessary for it to function; however, it did acknowledge that having both would likely benefit society as well as Beaver Wood’s finances.

 

The PSB also rejected Beaver Wood’s claim that state laws favor a “one-stop shopping” approach that would be contrary to requiring the two processes, citing the fact that each facility needs and has applied for 20 to 30 separate permits.

 

The PSB has ruled against Beaver Wood in the past, first in December when it rejected the company’s request to begin basic construction so it would be able to qualify for a federal grant it feared would expire Dec. 31. While the point was rendered moot when Congress extended the grant deadline, the PSB issued a decision saying it didn’t have the authority to grant permission for portions of projects.

 

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.

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