Unanswered Concerns about the Biomass Plant

I’m quoting myself here, responding to Brad Lofton’s letter of 19 Sepember 2010.


From: “John S. Quarterman”
To: <blofton@industrialauthority.com>, Leigh Touchton
Cc: [VDT and several elected officials; list available upon request]
Subject: Re: Brad Lofton, Executive Director Industrial Authority, doesn’t want his correpondence in the Valdosta Daily Times
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2010 14:08:17 -0400

Brad Lofton,

Leigh Touchton has forwarded me copies of the correspondence between you on behalf of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA) with her and the VDT.

I must say I don’t agree with your assertion that:

“The vast majority of her concerns for our project would have been answered two years ago if she had come to any of our forums…”
Here are some examples of unanswered concerns.
Unanswered concern: carbon neutral?

Regarding the well-known question of how a plant that emits 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) than a coal plant can be carbon neutral:


I asked that question at a meeting I requested with you and Col. Ricketts of VLCIA, that you organized for 10 June 2010 (thanks for doing that). In response, I was given a document that generically described biomass nationwide. A document that admits that biomass produces more CO2 than coal, says that there could be some situation in which trees are planted fast enough to take up the CO2 faster than it’s being emitted, but:

“For many purposes, analysis on a regional scale or national scale may be most appropriate.”

As you and I and Col. Ricketts have discussed at length, there is no such study: he couldn’t find it; I couldn’t find it; Jill Stuckey of CIE doesn’t have it.


In the video of the biomass air quality hearing of 27 April 2010, you can hear (at 01:05:06) the EPD rep saying:

“We’re not going to do a regional impact study.”

That is despite the proposed biomass plants for Hamilton Co., Florida, Plant Mitchell in Albany, the pellet plant in Waycross, and the existing Langdale and PCA operations in Valdosta and Clyattville, all well within 100 miles of the proposeed biomass plant site in Lowndes County.

So any assertion of this biomass plant being carbon neutral is unsubstantiated, and the more plausible assumption is that there will be a 15 year or more gap between the time trees are cut down and burned and the time they grow back. A gap in which a lot of CO2 will enter the atmosphere.

Unanswered concern: whole trees?

In that video you can also hear Bob Turner, the Wiregrass Power LLC plant manager, say (00:54:34):

“We cannot go out and cut down whole trees to burn” or we’d lose our tax credits.
Yet in the study VLCIA gave me, all the scenarios seem to be about clearcutting, and other biomass proponents in Georgia openly say they plan to burn whole trees in their plant:


So the evidence VLCIA gave me as well as that of other biomass proponents indicates that biomass plants such as the one proposed for Valdosta can indeed burn whole trees.

Unanswered concern: emissions per kW-h produced?

At the June 10th meeting in the VLCIA office, I asked for direct comparisons of emissions per kilowatt hour (kW-h) of electricity generated for this proposed biomass plant vs. a coal plant. I was told that item went on VLCIA’s action items. Yet when the meeting attendees later recieved the action items, what was on them was not that, and even after I asked VLCIA for it again, I never got it:


Unanswered concern: frequency of monitoring?

At the air quality hearing, Dr. Gretchen Bielmyer, an environmental toxicologist, asked several questions about frequency of monitoring of several types of emissions, including mercury, dioxins, and furans (00:37:28 in the video). She was told then that

“There will not be continuous mercury monitoring.”
And for the others:
“I don’t have those in front of me.”
At the 10 June meeting in the VLCIA office I asked for further information, and was told that it would be sent later. All the attendees got later was a copy of the same air quality permit application of February that Dr. Bielmyer had before she asked her questions, and that we already had posted publicly on the LAKE web pages:


I could go on, but I think this is enough to illustrate my point: it’s not at all clear that Leigh Touchton would have had her concerns answered if she had come to some of VLCIA’s meetings, since others have not had their concerns answered.

You refered to “Our unprecedented effort of educating the public”. Perhaps you are unaware that the Metropolitan Planning Organization holds numerous open houses and lengthy public comment sessions:


Similarly every rezoning proposal has to go through public hearings at the Planning Commission and either the County Commission or the City Council. Planning documents with longterm effect such as the Comprehensive Plan or Valdosta’s Land Development Regulations (LDR) or the county’s Uniform Land Development Code (ULDC) go through even more extensive processes. The City of Valdosta and Central Valdosta Development Authority (CVDA) has held a series of town halls “to seek citizen input on the future of Downtown Valdosta over the next 20-30 years”:


The effort you describe actually is precedented by quite a few other local organizations and boards, and doesn’t sound as extensive as some. Yet a biomass plant would affect us all for the next 20-30 years or longer.

You wrote:

“We’ve spent more time educating the community on this project then the sum of any other projects we’ve worked combined.”
Then I must wonder about the other projects VLCIA is proposing.

You also remarked:

“Now that we’re moving into the third year of due diligence, she’s concerned all of a sudden.”
Any city council or county commission member can tell you that people often get concerned at the last minute, no matter what the process.

Yet after attending commission and council sessions for years, I’ve never heard a single public official say anything like this:

“I’m amazed at how someone could dare say that we’ve not informed the public.”
Really? How dare she?

People dare to express concerns about the biomass plant because they have serious concerns about health and deforestation (with resulting flooding) that VLCIA’s process has not answered.

Instead, VLCIA’s minimal process is promoting increasing scepticism and outright opposition on the part of the public, as can be seen in this 8 July 2010 town hall that was organized by Pastor Angela Manning after she attended the 10 June 2010 meeting in the VLCIA office:



In my case, when I first heard about this proposed biomass plant, I thought it would be clean local energy. But the more I looked into it, the more questions came up. And the more I asked, the the more I encountered obfuscation and lack of answers.

Now I understand that VLCIA is apparently currently tasked only with finding proposals that fit with the letter of the LDR and the ULDC and other legal limits such as air quality permits. In that sense, as I have mentioned to the two of you, I know that you and Col. Ricketts are simply doing your jobs.

However, the public does have serious questions that have not been answered, and if the answers don’t fall within the letter of the regulations (CO2, for example, is not regulated by EPD), then it’s time for the Valdosta City Council and the Lowndes County Commmission to change VLCIA’s charter to address concerns such as health and deforestation that affect the welfare of all the people.

Meanwhile, I suggest again that Wiregrass Power LLC expand its small planned solar power plant. Solar produces no direct emissions and no fugitive emissions from delivery trucks, and apparently the funding is already in place and the permits granted. With a bit of expansion, that solar plant would be big enough to qualify for venture capital funding:


Solar: cleaner for the public, and simpler and more lucrative for Wiregrass Power LLC.


John S. Quarterman

PS: Since your correspondence with Leigh Touchton was sent from your business email address, paid for by tax dollars, and was copied to Leigh Touchton, who has a stated policy of never having private conversations with public officials, I trust you will have no objections as I post that correspondence on the web for the public to see.