Mason County at the Center of
by James John Bell
SHELTON -- In the parking lot of Safeway, and at the post office, there are official looking flyers that boldly read, "DIOXIN ALERT!" with Mason County as ground zero for the toxic warning's bull's eye.
This is but one response of many that people are having to the news that the Port of Shelton commissioners are considering to lease land to ADAGE, LLC to construct a $250 million "biomass electric power generation facility" at the Johns Prairie Industrial Park.
Tom Deponty, ADAGE's public affairs director, said the name ADAGE "comes from the first letters for AREVA/Duke Advanced Green Energy." (Duke Energy is the largest publicly owned gas and electric utility in the United States and AREVA is a French global nuclear power giant.)
According to the nonprofit Incinerator Free Mason County, a total of at least 47 new "biomass electric power generation" facilities have been proposed for Washington state and at least six plants are being planned for the Olympic Peninsula region, with two of the largest located in Mason County.
Already more than 40, mostly small, wood-fed, electric power-generation plants have been in operation for decades across the Northwest. Many of these are located at mill sites or industrial areas, like the biomass co-generation plant at Simpson Tacoma Kraft Co.'s pulp and paper mill, which recently reached commercial operation on the Tacoma Tideflats.
The current biomass "green rush" is being spurred by enormous amounts of both federal and state tax subsides that are available if construction on the plants begins in 2010.
The Plant Controversy
Biomass is another name for "slash," as loggers call it. However, that's only one aspect of biomass, sometimes referred to specifically as "woody biomass." The federal definition includes plant material, vegetation, agricultural waste, human waste, manure, sewer waste, animal carcasses, medical waste, construction waste – essentially anything of biological origin is "biomass."
"All the bioenergy plants proposed for the region will convert biomass to energy through a process of incineration. The technology varies and in all cases air pollution is produced as a byproduct of generating power – what goes in must come out," says Greg Helms, Ph.D. ,who lives in Union and works as a biomass scientist and director of the Center for NMR Spectroscopy at Washington State University.
On April 29, the Environmental Protection Agency, saying its standards for certain pollutants (mainly particulate matter) are inadequate to protect human health, has recommended new regulations that are much more stringent than the regulations that are permitting these biomass plants, explains Helms.
With regard to the "two towers" (as Helms calls them) that are planned for Shelton by ADAGE, LLC and Simpson Timber Co., the ADAGE plant alone will deliver "240 tons of nitrogen oxides, 149 tons of sulfur oxides, 248 tons of carbon monoxide, over 100 tons of dangerous particulate matter (which is listed as 98 tons of 10 micrometer particulate and 97 tons of 2.5 micrometer particulate) and more than 550,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year."
As local Shelton residents fighting it are quick to point out, the ADAGE "incinerator" is within 1,500 feet of the Mason County soccer and baseball fields (MCRA) and "within three miles of the county hospital, the high school, the middle school, Mountainview Elementary School, multiple assisted living facilities, the Olympic Community College campus and major retail shopping and restaurants," says Laura Lewis, a Mason County small business owner and married mother of two. Lewis announced in front of a packed crowd at the Shelton Civic Center on May 24 that she is running for Mason County Commissioner District 3.
"Mason County is ranked 37 out of 39 counties for health. Our leaders, by supporting ADAGE, are racing us to the bottom. I'm running to turn Mason County around and head toward No. 1," she said.
The Skokomish tribe is opposed to the plant idea. Skokomish tribal member Roslynne Reed, vice president of cultural programs for Hood Canal Education Foundation, says, "A couple months ago, Duke Energy picked a fight with the Cherokee Nation when they attempted to build an electrical substation on the sacred Kituwah ceremonial mounds. Tribal nations stand together on issues like this; I will work hard to keep the ADAGE biomass incinerator out of Mason County for that and many other health and safety concerns."
Critics point out that the Political Economy Research Institute ranks Duke Energy 13th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States. Last year Duke Energy agreed to settle a lawsuit charging the Indiana Gallagher Station of violating the Clean Air Act, according to the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. It will cost the company about $93 million for making unauthorized changes that increased air pollution.
The Plant Output
The ADAGE bioenergy facility will burn more than one ton a minute of biomass, or more than 600,000 tons a year, to produce 55 MW of power.
For comparison, ADAGE uses a chart with a woodstove showing that the plant burns woody biomass much cleaner. If the average woodstove burns about four tons a year, then the ADAGE plant will be the equivalent of adding 150,000 wood stoves into Shelton, according to a handout by Incinerator Free Mason County. Deponty says that this is only "in material put in, but not output."
Helms, the WSU biomass scientist, explains that "output" includes things like nitrogen oxides, or NOx, the generic term for a group of highly reactive gases, all of which contain nitrogen and oxygen in varying amounts. Nitrogen oxides form when fuel is burned at high temperatures, as in a combustion process. They're a main ingredient for making acid rain, he says.
According to the ADAGE handout, the biopower plant only emits 28 percent of the NOx per ton of wood as compared to a home woodstove (0.8 compared to 2.8). Incinerator Free Mason County took the analogy one step further in its handout, showing that this would mean ADAGE would output the equivalent NOx of 42,000 new woodstoves (150,000 x0.28) burning 24/7 every day of the year (the plant would be exempted from burn bans).
The plan is to sell this biopower to California, which has laws in place that don't allow these types of plants to operate because of pollution concerns, but does allow the state to purchase power from them, according to Dr. William Sammons, a pediatrician who has practiced in Massachusetts and Vermont for 30 years. Sammons flew out and gave a presentation to Mason County residents on the health risks of the ADAGE "incinerator" at the Shelton Civic Center last month (the presentation was posted at www.IncineratorFreeMasonCounty.org).
Deponty says that Duke and AREVA have been working on this project for about two years. "We signed a memorandum of understanding with Energy Northwest in February 2009 to collaborate on the power market for biomass opportunities. Mason County commissioner and (state) Sen. Tim Sheldon is on the board of Energy Northwest."
Deponty says the emissions that the bioenergy plant will put out will meet all air-quality laws, otherwise it would not be permitted. ADAGE has applied for permits with ORCAA and SEPA. No public vote is required; however, Mason County Commissioner Ross Gallagher stated in front of a packed crowd of residents at the Shelton Civic Center on May 24, "There will be a public hearing."
Gallagher said he is still reviewing information and has not made up his mind, but has stated that because the location in question is in the Urban Growth Area (UGA), the decision to lease the property to ADAGE falls on the three Port of Shelton commissioners, with only two of the three needing to approve it. Port Commissioner Jack Miles said at the meeting of more than 350 concerned residents that he will push to "end all efforts to negotiate a lease agreement with ADAGE."
Deponty says the project is a positive move for the county. "We're creating economic development for Shelton and Mason County," he says. "This will bring additional industry into the region; it's an economic engine. We're bringing a new industry to the community and making a long-term investment; we hope it will spur additional economic development as well."
He says the plant means "stable sustainable employment for loggers and land managers, and can become a big part of the existing industry." The biomass is only to be gathered from within a 50-mile radius of the plant's location. It's estimated that it will take more than 100 trucks per day to feed the plant, plus additional fuel trucks to bring the extra fuel into the county to keep those trucks operating. Besides bringing new trucks and jobs, it takes 24 workers total to operate the plant.
Deponty says ADAGE is "environmental protection for Mason County." "Working forests keep that land from converting to a development. There are 972,000 acres of forest land that are threatened to conversion to nonforest uses," he says, citing a UW College of Forestry Services report titled "Retention of High Valued Forest Lands at Risk of Conversion to Non-Forest Uses in Washington State."
In the current economic downturn "there is an interest and appetite for biopower in Washington," according to Deponty. Besides the two proposed biopower plants for Shelton, the DNR wants to help build four others around the state that would also be fed by the same biomass, one of those is in Port Angeles. Forks High School and Evergreen State College both have smaller biopower plants in development.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) is an energy bill (H.R. 2454) that addresses the climate change crisis and subsidizes new "green energy" power generation. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009 by a vote of 219-212, and is still in consideration in the Senate.
This draft climate change bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill's carbon pollution reductions, according to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
"Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning 'renewable biomass' on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722). In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution," NRDC says.
NRDC has joined a growing number of national environmental organizations concerned about biomass burning, saying that not requiring allowances for carbon pollution from biomass burning gives covered sources an economic incentive to build biomass energy plants, thus seriously degrading the bill's stated carbon pollution reductions.
"... The bill's definition of 'renewable biomass' also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700). The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies," according to NRDC.
International environmental organizations Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace announced their opposition to the climate change bill, saying it is too weak and citing support from Duke Energy (parent company of the proposed ADAGE, LLC
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