Wisconsin Plant Would be a Huge Polluter

March 7, 2011
See PFPI's comment letter on the Domtar plant here
Domtar Biomass Power Plant Would be a Huge Polluter
Facility threatens health of community and children at nearby school
Plant not needed to meet energy demand
Madison WI – A detailed analysis of the air permit application for the We Energies, 50 MW biomass-fueled Domtar power plant in Rothschild, Wisconsin, finds that the facility will increase air pollution in the community, almost certainly throw the region into violation of Clean Air Act standards, threaten the health of children at an elementary school adjacent to the plant, and increase greenhouse gas emissions in contradiction of state renewable energy goals.
The analysis, by the Partnership for Policy Integrity and the Biomass Accountability Project, concludes that the plant should not be built. “Domtar is a prime example of everything wrong with biomass electricity generation”, said Mary Booth, PhD, of the Partnership for Policy Integrity.
According to a analysis by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “The proposed project is not needed to meet WEPCO‘s near-term energy or capacity needs”. It is instead being built to meet “renewable” energy generation goals in Wisconsin.
Although considered renewable by the State, emissions numbers from the air permit show that burning biomass to generate electricity is less efficient and many times more polluting than natural gas. In fact, Domtar’s biomass burner will emit similar amounts of particulate matter, sulfur, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants as a coal plant, under the air permit conditions set by DNR.
The DNR is not requiring Domtar to install the most effective available pollution control technologies at the plant, due to claims by the company that pollution control technologies will cost too much.
As a result, DNR further estimates that dangerous particulate matter (PM) emissions from Domtar will put air pollution in the region at 99% of the health standard set by EPA, a standard that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources itself criticized in a letter to EPA as based on poor science and “…quite simply inadequate to protect public health”. Slight deviation from DNR’s assumptions about Domtar’s operation could easily put the region in violation of Clean Air Act standards for PM. As recognized in an environmental assessment conducted by DNR, high air pollution in the region may also restrict economic growth in the area by making it difficult to issue air pollution permits for other businesses. Because the plant will burn wastewater residue from the Domtar paper mill and construction and demolition debris, emissions of toxic air pollutants like lead, chromium, arsenic, and dioxin will also increase.
The Domtar plant proposes to install a new natural gas burner along with the much larger biomass-fired burner. Burning all natural gas instead of biomass at the Domtar plant would produce significantly cleaner air in the Rothschild region, but the DNR has decided that producing renewable energy is more important than controlling pollution, stating that “the Department will not further consider the use of only natural gas, or other cleaner fossil fuel”, as part of any pollution control analysis for the plant.
Because it burns biomass the Domtar plant will also produce substantial greenhouse gas emissions, which the permit sets 3,120 pounds per megawatt-hour, more than six times the 510 pounds per megawatt-hour allowed for the facility’s new natural gas burner.
Meg Sheehan, attorney with the Biomass Accountability Project, a group working with citizens nationwide to stop biomass power plants and one of the authors on the analysis, stated, "Americans know that clean energy doesn't come out of a smokestack. Domtar is a $5 billion corporation, yet, the company is skimping on pollution controls. Located in a residential community, the Domtar biomass burner will spew out highly toxic chemicals that will cause Wisconsin citizens to suffer more asthma, heart disease, cancer and more. Governor Walker should save taxpayer money and protect the public health by killing this project before it endangers Wisconsin’s children."
Claims by the developer that the facility will create jobs are not supported by a analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which concluded that logging and trucking jobs associated with bringing wood fuel to the plant “may or may not be new jobs… there may not be any significant increase in permanent jobs in the Wausau area after the plant was placed in operation.”
Once operational, the Domtar biomass burner will be eligible for ratepayer-funded renewable energy credits and taxpayer funded federal tax credits.
Paul Schwantes, co-chair of Save Our Air Resources, a group of over 1,000 Wisconsin citizens seeking to protect the public health and ensure fiscally responsible renewable energy, stated “At a time when Wisconsin is struggling with a budget, this project wastes more taxpayer and ratepayer money, and will drive up our health care costs. Our comments on the air permit show that the air pollution from this so-called "renewable" project are a toxic soup of the most dangerous pollutants known to science."

Partnership for Policy Integrity