The Power of One vs. Biomass-Burning Incinerator

Biomass-Burning Incinerator At Our Doorstep

Daisy, activist-in-training! (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve been absent from the blog rolls these days.  Here’s why: early this summer, we got word that a company from Maine was proposing to build a biomass-burning incinerator in our town.  Considering we live about 700 yards from the site, we thought we should learn more about biomass, what it is, and what this facility might mean for us.

Unfortunately, it’s been bad news all around.

Biomass (also known as trees, harvested from local forests) is burned in large incinerators for energy.  Emissions from the 200 foot tall smokestack would include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The list of other harmful emissions is too long to present here. Health organizations have stated that there is no safe level for particulate matter — it is so small that it travels widely and lodges itself in your lungs, exacerbating existing respiratory problems and causing other health problems.  The seventy or eighty diesel trucks a day bringing fuel to the incinerator would add even more harmful emissions — all of this pollution would stagnate in our deep and narrow valley, home to hundreds of families, a handful of farms, and a wildly popular summer camp.

It only gets worse: the developers propose to use water from the Hoosic River, which is presently at an all-time low level from lack of rain all month. They need  400 gallons a minute, a staggering 576,000 gallons per day.  Locals know that the river is laden with PCB’s from years of dumping by industrial sites upstream. The company says there are no PCB’s in the water, that they are in the silt and soil.  But anytime there is a heavy rain the silt is stirred up, possibly dislodging PCB’s that could then go into the cooling towers and be emitted into the air.  If river water isn’t sufficient, the developers plan to use water from an existing well that extracts water from an aquifer.  The effects on local property owners’ wells is not clear.  If wells dry up, the state will “mitigate” the situation, possibly bringing in bottled water.

Biomass relies on logging, and the developers plan to obtain wood from within a fifty mile radius of the plant,  330,000 tons of it each year.  The very idea of cutting our trees for electricity generation is so depressing to me, it is difficult to think about this aspect of the project.  That we as a  society have become so cavalier about our natural resources, that we would be so short-sighted to cut and burn the very trees that sequester carbon dioxide, provide homes for woodland creatures, green our hillsides in the summer, and explode with color each autumn, that we as a society could stoop so low to resort to this practice saddens me so much I have literally shed tears thinking about it.

My husband and I talk about it all the time.  We plan to move from our lovely house, a house that we have worked so hard to renovate, insulate, landscape, and make into a home we can be proud of.  Years of Christmas trees dot our front yard, we have labored over rosa rugosa plants along our fence row, nurtured recalcitrant lilacs into blooming, fostered a peach tree that now blesses us with abundant fruit each summer, and have tended a lawn with nothing other than love and a push-mower so that now it glows green in the sunshine.  We purchased the property next to us so Daisy could have thick woods to roam in, a stream to explore, and hills to roll down.  It is a virtually fairy-land within those woods: we have spent many hours building fairy houses and gnome homes, sketching the landscape, and examining rocks, fallen trees, animal tracks and wildflowers.  To give this all up and move because someone else has decided to put in a wood-burning incinerator so close to our sheltered eden has fired up the activist in me.

I now spend my days researching and photocopying material, administering a website with information for our community, calling legislators, planners and the Vermont Public Service Board.  I’m part of a group that is circulating a petition, distributing information, making connections with environmentalists and scientists and others fighting the same fight in their towns.  We’re calling our selectmen, bringing questions to the developers and preparing for the hearings in October.

Like a mama bear, I will do all I can to protect my cub.  She is the only one I have and I will fight to keep her air clean and to shelter her from the mad doings of a world gone energy-crazy for as long as I possibly can.  She recently wrote this note to me: “Der mama, I hope the biyomas plant dus not come in. Wut can I duw to help. Lov Daisy.”  It broke my heart, but I must carry on.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been.  That’s where I’ll be.  I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

4 Comments on “The Power of One vs. Biomass-Burning Incinerator

  1. Thanks for the comments! There’s plenty more reading on this issue at the Facebook site: “Southern Vermont Against Biomass.”

    Diane, some folks from Greenfield have been helping us immensely. It sounds like you have a great community there!

  2. Welcome to my world. I was stunned to find out that a biomass incinerator was going to be built near my farm (I’m in Greenfield, MA) and even more horrified when our Planning Dept and ZBA basically rubber-stamped the project without reading the reams of materials our local anti-biomass group provided, or listening to townfolk’s strenuous objections. I too have one precious child, a four-year-old girl, and livestock who can’t come indoors to escape biomass stack emissions. We can’t afford to leave, by the way. I wish we could.

    The good news here is that the townfolk have rallied to try to stop the incinerator in Greenfield, and we’re doing our best. Don’t know if it will be good enough, but we’re trying. I remember contacting some residents in Pownal back when I first heard about the proposed biomass incinerator coming to that town, and the response I received was pretty discouraging: basically “bring it on, we need the jobs”. Hopefully your group has hooked up with the Massachusetts anti-biomass forces.

    Best of luck to you in your battle. You have my sincere empathy.

  3. A wonderful, poignant and informative article. May Daisy be able to roam her Fairy Woods for many many years to come. No biomass!!!!

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