College opposes early construction of biomass plant

Last Wednesday, the College filed an opposition to Beaver Wood Energy’s motion for preliminary approval to construct a biomass facility in Pownal, Vt.

“The College, which owns property in Pownal as well as in Williamstown, has substantial interests that may be adversely affected by the project in terms of air quality, traffic, forest quality and aesthetics,” said Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs. For these reasons, the College believed it had proper jurisdiction to issue such an opposition letter.

Beaver Wood Energy initially filed its motion for preliminary approval on Oct. 27, the same day it filed a petition to build and operate the biomass plant and wood pellet manufacturing facility. The College is specifically opposed to Beaver Wood Energy’s proposal to engage in construction activities before being issued a certificate of public good by the State of Vermont Public Service Board.

Beaver Wood Energy filed a request to begin preliminary construction before Dec. 31, which would allow it to qualify for federal tax grant funds. The company claimed that without this grant, the project could be jeopardized financially.

The College argued that the public service board does not have the authority to approve Beaver Wood Energy’s planned construction. The College’s opposition letter states that Beaver Wood Energy assured the public service board that in the event that a certificate of public good is not issued, it would restore the site to its original condition even after construction has begun.

However, the College believes that if the public service board were to allow Beaver Wood Energy to proceed under this condition, such a decision would be analogous to granting authorization or approval to these pre-construction activities, which the board cannot grant. The conclusion of the College’s letter called for the public service board’s denial of Beaver Wood Energy’s motion for preliminary approval.
On Nov. 19, a pre-hearing conference took place to identify issues that would require resolution and to finalize a schedule for the cases. In addition to representation by Beaver Wood Energy, the State of Vermont Public Service Board and the Agency of Natural Resources, several others attended the conference. According to a memorandum issued by the public service board, these interested parties participated actively in the discussions.

At the conference, it was decided that, if needed, a hearing on the proposed preliminary construction would be scheduled for Dec. 14. Petitioners requested that they be able to offer a schedule for determining the jurisdictional issue. Therefore it was decided that a definitive schedule for reviewing Beaver Wood Energy’s proposed projects would not be finalized until the jurisdictional issue and the motion for preliminary construction were resolved.

On Nov. 10, the Concerned Citizens of Pownal and Concerned Citizens of Williamstown joined together to form the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition to educate local residents about biomass, its potential hazards and the history of Beaver Wood Energy. The group aims to hinder the permitting process so that concerned parties have sufficient time to study the impacts the construction of the facility would have on the community. The group sponsored a public forum titled “An Open-Air Discussion About Biomass” on Nov. 20.

Kolesar said the College is planning another educational talk in January featuring Bill Moomaw ’59, an alumnus and former faculty member of the College who is currently a professor of international environmental policy and the director for the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University.