Bergstrom, Noll, and Gunning biomass questions from June 2009

These are the questions Dr. Michael Noll submitted to the LCC at its 9 June 2009 meeting. I invite anyone else who submitted written comments to that meeting to send them here and I’ll be happy to post them.

-jsq

TO: Lowndes Co. Commission
RE: Wiregrass LLC Biomass Electricity Plant
Date: June 9, 2009

Dear Lowndes County Commissioners.

As the county is currently considering the development of a biomass electricity plant, we wish to share some important concerns and questions with you, which we believe need to be addressed before any further action is taken.

First, the proposed biomass plant is being touted as a “Green Energy” project because it produces electricity from renewable materials. However, this wood waste and yard waste could have other uses—such as compost, landscaping mulch and forest soil amendments, which are much “greener” still and produce no pollution at all. The fact that these materials are labeled “waste” tells you something, and Reducing, Re-using, and Recycling waste should come higher on the list of green processing than incinerating it.

Second, it might be a strong selling point for a project if a significant portion of Valdosta or Lowndes Co. could actually claim to be consumers of renewable energy. But there are absolutely no commitments in this project that utilities that buy electricity from the Wiregrass plant will sell it locally. There will be a renewable electricity producer located within the county, and that’s it.

Thirdly, we have seen no economic analysis of the need for this additional electricity generation, locally or in the region. This question is especially important when you consider that 11 other biomass plants are planned for Georgia and a 50-mW plant is being developed 25 miles away in Hamilton Co., FL. If stimulus funds are available for green energy projects, why is all the emphasis on producing extra supply rather than reducing demand through conservation and efficiency improvements?

We feel these fundamental issues have not been addressed. These and the following specific questions should be answered before this project proceeds:

1) The 60-mile radius for fuel supplies will overlap considerably with the supply zone of the ADAGE biomass plant in Hamilton Co. How will that affect the supply zone?

2) Is there proof of significant growth in electricity demand to warrant new construction? Keep in mind the output of this plant is about a tenth that of even a small coal-fired plant, so coal plants are not likely to be taken off line as a result of several of these biomass plants in the region.

3) Will purchase of yard waste deplete the supply of compost, currently a free public resource provided to homeowners by the City of Valdosta?

4) Will use of pine bark by this and other biomass plants reduce the availability and increase the price of pine bark mulch regionally, forcing homeowners and businesses to purchase more expensive and/or less sustainably produced mulch shipped in from outside our area?

5) Will removal of forest slash reduce the enrichment of forest soils in the region, as it alters the long-standing practice of leaving the slash to decompose or burning it in place?

6) The developers tout this plant’s lower emissions of CO, CO2, SO2, NOx and particulates, compared to coal plants. But they do not mention H2S (hydrogen sulfide), small quantities of which produce the “rotten egg” odor that we all know from the PCA plant in Clyattville. Will the Wiregrass plant release H2S and therefore produce a rotten egg smell in the area?

7) Will the diversion of 1/3 of the outflow of the Mud Creek wastewater treatment plant negatively affect downstream flows in the Mud Creek/Alapaha River system?

8) Will the project developers avoid wetlands impacts and the fragmentation of the valuable bottomland hardwood forests in the Knight’s Creek floodplain in routing electrical transmission from the plant to the major power lines east of Knight’s Creek? The impacts of a few acres of planted pines at the plant site—the minimization of which the developers have taken great care to explain—are unimportant. Far more important, and so far not even mentioned, are the mature, native forests of this intact riparian ecosystem.

9) Will Wiregrass LLC commit in writing, that a significant portion of the 20-25 technical jobs will go to Valdosta citizens most in need of those jobs, and that they are willing to train local citizens with the skills required?

Answers to these questions will help determine if this project is necessary and beneficial to the community, and if so, will help to enhance its acceptance by the community.

Sincerely,

Dr. Brad Bergstrom
2101 Michael Ter
Valdosta, GA 31602

Dr. Michael G. Noll
2305 Glynndale Dr
Valdosta, GA 31602

Seth Gunning
603 Georgia Ave.
Valdosta, GA 31602

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