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Monday, May 24, 2010

State should study impact of biomass plant

From an editorial in the Wausau Daily Herald:

The group of citizens who are working to stop a proposed biomass plant near the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild have been working to cast doubt on virtually all of the claims made about the project -- environmental claims, economic claims and so on.

Of their concerns, the questions around the plant's environmental impact are the most serious, because the air emissions have the potential to do the most harm.

Domtar and We Energies have answered them in some detail, and we have no reason to doubt their analysis of the plant's impact. Still, there's no getting around the fact that those companies have an economic incentive to spin the facts in a way that is most beneficial to their project.

That's why we all would benefit from an environmental impact statement on the project by the state and federal governments. It would provide a solid and independent expert analysis of the project.

The regulations governing these projects are arcane, but the essence of the argument is easy to understand: The state Public Service Commission, sometimes in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies, has the capacity to prepare an independent assessment of the real environmental effects of the proposed project. This includes the impact of emissions, noise and other factors.

By statute, that analysis is automatically triggered for any power plant generating 100 megawatts or more. The proposed biomass plant will generate 50 megawatts, so an environmental impact statement is not required.

That doesn't mean it shouldn't be completed. Fifty megawatts of electricity still is a major power plant. An environmental impact statement would add an important expert perspective to the local discussion about the plant. This is a big project, and a relatively new technology. It bears scrutiny.

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