Proposed bioenergy plant denied certificate of public good in Vt.

By Erin Voegele | February 17, 2014

The Vermont Public Service Board has denied North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project LLC’s petition for a certificate of public good (CPG) for its proposed 25-to-35-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant in Springfield, Vt. A company spokesman called the ruling disappointing and told Biomass Magazine he is unable to comment on what the decision could mean for the plant at this time.

NSSEP originally filed the petition requesting a CPG on Dec. 22, 2011. According to documents published by the PSB, the wood chip-fired plant would be constructed on a 20-acre parcel of land in the North Springfield Industrial Park. The principal components of the project include a boiler building, steam turbine generator building, pollution abatement equipment and stack, six Hexacool air-cooled condenser modules, three liquid storage tanks, a transformer yard, transport truck unloading facilities and various fuel handling, transport and storage facilities. According to PSB documentation, the project would feature a bubbling fluidized bed combustor technology, which offers benefits several benefits, including increased efficiency. The proposed project would take in approximately 450,000 green tons of wood chips per year, with 300,000 of that volume harvested from Vermont forests.

A report prepared by a PSB hearing officer recommended the board deny the petition, claiming the project “will unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region based on its trucking-related impacts to the local community.” If the board would have elected to approve the petition, the report recommended it impose several conditions on the project.

In explaining the recommendation, the hearing officer did note the project would provide measurable economic benefits in terms of increased jobs, wages and tax revenue to the surrounding community and state of Vermont if it were constructed and operated.

“While I have concluded that many issues arising from the petition could be addressed through the imposition of conditions, I cannot conclude that there are reasonable conditions that could be imposed to alleviate the undue impacts of the significant increase in truck traffic on two local streets leading to the entrance of the North Springfield Industrial Park that would attend the delivery of the wood chips needed to fuel the proposed facility,” wrote the hearing officer, noting that the recommendation does not mean that he has concluded that no commercial-scale woody-biomass electric generated facility should be approved in the state. “To the contrary, I recognize that, as a general proposition, a woody-biomass electric generation facility could occupy an appropriate place in Vermont's energy portfolio, provided that such a facility is proposed for an appropriate, accessible location and would be operated so that it better comports with the requirements of Vermont and its ratepayer,” he hearing officer continued.

In addition to electricity production, the proposed project also included a district heating component. According to PSB documents, NSSEP has proposed to construct a thermal loop in the industrial park to utilize waste heat. Waste heat produced at the power plant would be carried through a network of hot water pipes to support a central heating service for commercial buildings in the park.

Regarding truck traffic, the report estimates that the plant would require delivery of five truckloads of wood chips per hour, with peak hour deliveries resulting in as many as 12 truckloads per hour. The report predicts that the resulting level of truck traffic would increase existing truck traffic entering the industrial park by 50 to 100 percent.

The report also discusses issues related to future energy needs, the current lack of a power purchase agreement (PPA), state renewable energy goals, the generation of renewable energy credits (RECs), and economic impacts. According to the report, construction of the plant would result in more than 600 jobs, while operation of the plant would generated 160 new jobs. The payroll for the jobs would be nearly $9 million annually statewide, with a $3 million increase in state tax revenues during each year the project operates. In addition, the plant would generated nearly $15 million in annual wood purchases, with two-thirds of that benefiting Vermont foresters.

In explaining its decision to deny the petition, the PSB said it has accepted the hearing officer’s recommended finding that the project would interfere with the orderly development of the region based on its trucking-related impacts to the local community.

Within his report, the hearing officer also recommended that the board find that the project would meet a need for present and future demand for service that could not otherwise be met in a more cost-effective manner through conservation, energy-efficiency or load-management measures. However, the PSB indicated it has declined to find that the project would meet a present and future need for regional renewable energy. Rather, the board said that NSSEP has filed to demonstrate the plant would meet a present and future demand for services which could not otherwise be provided in a more cost-effective manner.

The board, agreed with the hearing officer that there is sufficient evidence to find that there would be no adverse impact to system stability and reliability from interconnection of the project, provided the recommended conditions were fulfilled. The PSB also agreed that the project would provide economic benefit.

In its denial, the PBS also discussed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, noting that the project would result in what it called significant GHG emissions that would not be sequestered for decades. It also cited a low thermal efficiency of the plant as part of its reasoning for the denial.

A full copy of the PSB’s decision is available on the State of Vermont website.