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Wilderness Society raises concerns with Laidlaw

April 07, 2010
BERLIN — A conservation group raised a number of questions about the Laidlaw proposal with the state Site Evaluation Committee last week.

The Wilderness Society, a nonprofit dedicated to wilderness protection, sent the SEC a letter on Friday listing a number of concerns with Laidlaw's application and the LandVest woodsupply study. The study was used by Laidlaw to determine its fuel availability.

The Wilderness Society did not say it was opposed to the project, but the concerns they raised were wide-reaching, both ecological and economic in scope.

The LandVest study has a number of problems, the letter said, that in the end result in an overestimation of wood supply. The letter goes through a number of wood issues one at a time, from optomistic estimates for private landowner sales to terrain challenges that will likely reduce harvests, to say total wood supply projections may be too high.

In addition, the letter said, a number of nearby wood users were not included in the study, resulting in further reductions in available supply.

"Smaller community-scale users like schools and other public buildings were not included in the wood use inventory," the letter said. "These types of facilities within the defined wood basket utilize nearly 60,000 green tons of wood annually, with much potential for expansion."

Furthermore, the letter said, these users generally use wood for heat, which is between 60 percent and 80 percent efficient, while creating electricity from wood is about 25 percent efficient.

"Siting of wood energy facilities should consider the best future use of the limited available resource," the letter said.

The letter also addressed the greenhouse gas impact of the project. It may result in an overall increase of greenhouse gases, the letter said, if the wood is not sourced locally, because the amount of fuel needed to transport wood by truck can make the impact of a biomass plant greater than that of an oil or natural gas burning electric plant. The SEC should ensure the project is sustainable over the long term, the letter said, including mitigating transportation impacts.

But the immediate area around Berlin and Success has seen significant logging activity recently, the letter said, and may not be ecologically capable of supporting significant harvesting again for some time.

The project application also has high estimates for the number of jobs it will create, the letter said, when compared to similar projects.

A Massachusetts study found that producing 1 million tons of wood biomass per year (more than the Laidlaw plant) would support about 60 logging/chipping jobs and 48 trucking jobs," the letter said. Laidlaw's estimates are for about 300 of these jobs, but likely the numbers will be much lower, the Wilderness Society said.

The letter also listed concerns about renewable energy credits and the effects of the projects on outdoor recreation in the region. Overall the organization listed a litany of concerns without ever coming out against the project. Instead, it said the region has to be careful.

"Given the limited supplies of wood in Northern New England," the letter said, "and a wealth of wood energy opportunities just beginning to emerge, it is also in the best interests of New Hampshire and its citizens to consider carefully before committing large volumes of wood fuel over many years to a single large-scale facility."

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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