Monday, April 13, 2009

Chestnut Hill BioEnergy

Recently there has been a considerable amount of ink dedicated to the Food-to-Energy plant that is being considered for the old Anamet site in downtown Waterbury. The plant will be operated by Chestnut Hill BioEnergy, out of Massachusetts, and will generate 12 MW of electricity when completed in 2013. Because of the First Light natural gas plant, that is being constructed a few blocks away from the proposed Chestnut Hill site, there have been some serious concerns raised.

With these concerns in mind, several of the principles of Chestnut Hill came to the regular meeting of the Environmental Control Commission (ECC) on March 26, and gave a presentation about their plans. It was a pleasure to be able to host the investors, as the ECC is only an advisory board, and has no authority over the plant. I considered the willingness to meet with us an impressive display of corporate citizenship.

As I listened to the presentation, I took careful look at the technology that would be involved in the construction of the plant, and the anaerobic digestion process that would be used. I've also been taking into consideration the traffic that will be generated by the trucks coming into and out of the plant with the feedstock and resulting products. There are a lot of factors to consider, and I am still not 100% certain of my decision. For the most part, however, I am supportive of this concept.

My reasons for supporting the plant are as follows:

1) The site that is being considered for the power plant is currently a brownfield. The site has been abandoned for several years, and is generating very little tax revenue for the city of Waterbury. After the $50-$60 Million investment in the cleanup and the construction, the city will be better off in a tax sense. Even with the tax credit that the plant is going to apply for, the city will be making more tax money then it is from having the site continue to sit vacant. Also, as we have seen from the Mattatuck Manufacturing site on the East End, we're probably not going to see people breaking down the doors to remediate the site.

2) The plant is expected to generate 40-50 skilled jobs, and the investors have expressed a verbal commitment to keep the jobs local. These jobs will not be six-figure management positions, but they are expected to be full-time positions with benefits. Considering the fact that the city of Waterbury has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, this is a definite plus.

3) The technology involved is well established and gaining popularity in other parts of the world. The UK and Europe already have several of these plants on-line, and there are several other plants in the planning phase. Also, this technology is endorsed by environmental groups in the UK. Furthermore, the presentation takes as many precautions as are humanly possible to eliminate the smells, and any risk of leakage.

As I mentioned before, though, I am not completely sold on the proposal. My remaining concerns are as follows.

1) The addition of 54 trucks per day, 6 days a week, on local roads. The plans do keep the trucks off of residential streets, and work well for the most part. However, they do not take into account the impossibility to get from route 8 S to the Exit on 84 E that is suggested. Also, the exit routes were miscalculated by the company.

2) How do we make sure that the company does what they say it is going to do? This is an issue with any new business in any city, especially when industry is involved. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the fact that Chestnut Hill was willing to meet with the ECC at all, is a good sign.

I know that my opinions on this issue are going to draw fire, and I think i can guess who will supply the ammunition, but I am willing to take the heat. I welcome your comments and concerns about this proposed plant.

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