Green biomass plant may see red

MIDDLEBURY-Middlebury College recently opened a $12 million "green" biomass gasification power plant. According to college officials, the plant will provide the campus with both heat and electricity; it will use established power generation technology adapted to new, bio-organic fuel sources.

The main drive behind the plant's construction is a campuswide effort to reduce the institution's "carbon footprint" on the environment. It is hoped that the move will reduce local effects of "global warming".

Aside from the cost of construction, what will be the long-term costs of operating the new power plant? Despite the green claims made by officials and local supporters, could the project have a negative impact on the local environment? A local alternative energy critic thinks so.

According to a recent college news release, the plant's new biomass boiler is expected to reduce the use of No. 6 heating oil on campus from 2 million gallons to 1 million gallons annually. Campus officials also noted that the plant will reduce the college's carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent or 12,500 metric tons of the greenhouse gas.

According to J. Kirk Edwards of Ferrisburgh, Vt., a community activist and a critic of what he terms "feel good, costly alternative power projects", claims the college left out details about the plant.

"This project has been oversold," he said.

In addition to his activism, Edwards is also a freelance journalist and photojournalist. He has done news-related work for New Market Press and other print and online news outlets in Vermont and New York.

"I don't see any reporters digging into the technical side of this story," he said, "it's all feel good stuff about how wonderful the college is in fighting global warming, etc. But I think this power plant is a boondoggle. I have the figures that prove it."

Edwards said he used public information from various Internet sources to estimate the "footprint" of the new plant on Addison County's local landscape. In addition, he noted that his own informal survey of area lumberyards showed a shortage of wood chips in the area. He's not quite sure where the college will find its biomass fuel.

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