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Biomass in Pownal on Ice

By Charlie Deitz


Pownal, VT – Lead: Developers of a controversial biomass plant in Southern Vermont are putting their plans on hold, partly due to a large public opposition. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports that opponents are still not ready to celebrate.

A 30 megawatt wood burning biomass and wood pellet manufacturing facility, planned by Beaverwood energy, was slated to take up residence at the old racetrack in Pownal, Vermont, just a few miles north of the Massachusetts border. Over the last couple of years biomass opponents from Southern Vermont and Western Massachusetts banded together forming the Bennington Berkshire Citizens Coalition, a way to mobilize a grass roots defense strategy to the development. Tom Emero is the principal developer for beaverwood, he explains that the firm is building an identical plant in Fair Haven, Vermont, one which has overwhelming support from the local community.

So public support, and the Green Mountain State's desire for biomass, he says are the two main reasons they are not planning on moving forward with the Pownal plans, for now that is. Steve Dew is a member of the Bennington Berkshire Citizens Coalition, he'd like to see them commit to pulling out altogether.

Dew is a Massachussets resident, like many in the coalition. Vermont's Public Service board actually paid courtesy to the town of Williamstown and Williams College by giving them intervener status in the process, a move that Emero saw as allowing outside influences to control the dialogue. So far, Beaverwood has laid out a couple million dollars on the Pownal plant, but as Emero explains that investment has amounted to little more than paperwork.

The plant is expected to cost some 250 million dollars, and could lose a 50 million dollar federal tax incentive because of the delay. However, Emero confirms that all of the applications they have already filed to the state remain pending. Charley Stevenson is another member of the Bennington Berkshire Citizens Coalition.

State representative Bill Botzow serves the Pownal community, he's heard pretty much every point of view on the contentious project, but has yet not taken a position.

Botzow concedes that the delay means 50 or so jobs will not be coming to the small town now.

Emero and his team will put their efforts into making the Fair haven Biomass operation a success, and then turn around and renew efforts in Pownal, and for that, the concerned citizens are not planning on losing steam in their opposition according to Dew.

The issue had grown to take up such a large part of the conversation in Pownal, that a pro-biomass incumbent select person was unseated by an anti biomass challenger last week. Once again, the Pownal biomass plant is being delayed and not permanently withdrawn.