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Proposed biomass plant draws heat

Critics cite health risks associated with smoke

SHELTON, Wash. – A proposed power plant that would burn wood waste from the forest floor to generate electricity is facing some opposition for residents.

Adage LLC, based in Maryland, wants to build a $250 million, 60-megawatt power plant in Mason County. The project was unveiled in February as a way to produce renewable energy while taking advantage of the county’s wood products industry and creating jobs.

Critics say pollution from the proposed biomass plant would harm human health and the environment.

Adage applied for an air pollution permit April 1 and expects to file an environmental assessment this summer. The company is negotiating for a lease with the Port of Shelton for up to 100 acres of industrial property about two miles northeast of Shelton.

“We’re trying to be very, very open with the public about our intentions and the project,” Adage public affairs director Tom DePonty told the Olympian.

The company says it has secured about 604,000 tons of wood a year to feed the plant. It is also close to opening an office in Shelton.

Duff Badgley, a Seattle activist and 2008 candidate for governor on the Green Party ticket, said that hundreds of Mason County residents are lined up against the project.

Project critics have started a recall petition drive against Mason County Commissioners Tim Sheldon and Lynda Ring Erickson, two supporters of the project.

Sheldon dismissed the group and said, “I think most people in Mason County are very interested in what Adage can do for our community.”

He said he welcomes the potential for hundreds of jobs in a county suffering from a double-digit unemployment rate.

DePonty said Adage picked Mason County for one of two projects nationally because of the county’s strong forestry industry and a state initiative requiring utilities to get 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Biomass was considered a renewable source, along with wind, solar, geothermal and other sources, after considerable lobbying by the forest products industry.

Nancy Hirsh, policy director for the Northwest Energy Coalition, said not all biomass plants are created equal.

“A lot depends on where the wood comes from, the efficiency of the boilers and what would have happened to the wood waste if it wasn’t burned,” she said.

Dr. William Sammons, a Massachusetts-based pediatrician and opponent of burning wood for energy, said he’s concerned about health risks from the release of nearly 100 tons per year of tiny microscopic particles left over from the combustion process.

“Particulate matter will make sick people sicker and cause disease,” he told a crowd of 200 at a Shelton town hall meeting Tuesday.

Gordon Lance, the engineer for the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency assigned to determine if the project meets EPA air quality standards, said “The only way the application will be approved is if Adage meets the air quality standards.”