The Power of One vs. Biomass-Burning Incinerator

Biomass-Burning Incinerator At Our Doorstep

Daisy, activist-in-training! (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve been absent from the blog rolls these days.  Here’s why: early this summer, we got word that a company from Maine was proposing to build a biomass-burning incinerator in our town.  Considering we live about 700 yards from the site, we thought we should learn more about biomass, what it is, and what this facility might mean for us.

Unfortunately, it’s been bad news all around.

Biomass (also known as trees, harvested from local forests) is burned in large incinerators for energy.  Emissions from the 200 foot tall smokestack would include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The list of other harmful emissions is too long to present here. Health organizations have stated that there is no safe level for particulate matter — it is so small that it travels widely and lodges itself in your lungs, exacerbating existing respiratory problems and causing other health problems.  The seventy or eighty diesel trucks a day bringing fuel to the incinerator would add even more harmful emissions — all of this pollution would stagnate in our deep and narrow valley, home to hundreds of families, a handful of farms, and a wildly popular summer camp.

It only gets worse: the developers propose to use water from the Hoosic River, which is presently at an all-time low level from lack of rain all month. They need  400 gallons a minute, a staggering 576,000 gallons per day.  Locals know that the river is laden with PCB’s from years of dumping by industrial sites upstream. The company says there are no PCB’s in the water, that they are in the silt and soil.  But anytime there is a heavy rain the silt is stirred up, possibly dislodging PCB’s that could then go into the cooling towers and be emitted into the air.  If river water isn’t sufficient, the developers plan to use water from an existing well that extracts water from an aquifer.  The effects on local property owners’ wells is not clear.  If wells dry up, the state will “mitigate” the situation, possibly bringing in bottled water.

Biomass relies on logging, and the developers plan to obtain wood from within a fifty mile radius of the plant,  330,000 tons of it each year.  The very idea of cutting our trees for electricity generation is so depressing to me, it is difficult to think about this aspect of the project.  That we as a  society have become so cavalier about our natural resources, that we would be so short-sighted to cut and burn the very trees that sequester carbon dioxide, provide homes for woodland creatures, green our hillsides in the summer, and explode with color each autumn, that we as a society could stoop so low to resort to this practice saddens me so much I have literally shed tears thinking about it.

My husband and I talk about it all the time.  We plan to move from our lovely house, a house that we have worked so hard to renovate, insulate, landscape, and make into a home we can be proud of.  Years of Christmas trees dot our front yard, we have labored over rosa rugosa plants along our fence row, nurtured recalcitrant lilacs into blooming, fostered a peach tree that now blesses us with abundant fruit each summer, and have tended a lawn with nothing other than love and a push-mower so that now it glows green in the sunshine.  We purchased the property next to us so Daisy could have thick woods to roam in, a stream to explore, and hills to roll down.  It is a virtually fairy-land within those woods: we have spent many hours building fairy houses and gnome homes, sketching the landscape, and examining rocks, fallen trees, animal tracks and wildflowers.  To give this all up and move because someone else has decided to put in a wood-burning incinerator so close to our sheltered eden has fired up the activist in me.

I now spend my days researching and photocopying material, administering a website with information for our community, calling legislators, planners and the Vermont Public Service Board.  I’m part of a group that is circulating a petition, distributing information, making connections with environmentalists and scientists and others fighting the same fight in their towns.  We’re calling our selectmen, bringing questions to the developers and preparing for the hearings in October.

Like a mama bear, I will do all I can to protect my cub.  She is the only one I have and I will fight to keep her air clean and to shelter her from the mad doings of a world gone energy-crazy for as long as I possibly can.  She recently wrote this note to me: “Der mama, I hope the biyomas plant dus not come in. Wut can I duw to help. Lov Daisy.”  It broke my heart, but I must carry on.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been.  That’s where I’ll be.  I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

Transition Towns Movement in the Hilltowns

Transition Towns Informational Meeting
In Williamsburg on Sunday, March 21st

The Transition Towns Movement is a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. It represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected. We believe that we can make the transition to a more sustainable world. We hope that you will join us!

An informational meeting will take place at the Williamsburg Grange (Route 9) in Williamsburg, MA on Sunday, 03/21/10 from 3-5pm. Childcare is available. A community potluck will follow from 5-7pm. Please bring a labeled dish to share.

This is a FREE event and all are welcomed! Donations to cover expense of childcare and renting the Grange are welcomed. Learn about Transition Towns and bring it to your community!

For more information, contact Marie Westburg at or call (413) 268-7899.  Please RSVP if you need childcare.

Angie Gregory of Northampton, MA, owner of Mother Herb Diaper Service writes
The Transition Movement is something to take notice of. I highly recommend folks take the time out to hear what it’s all about and how amazing it would be to have in Williamsburg! There’s transition towns movements happening also in Amherst and Northampton, and folks are getting together to work on ways to materialize this amazing effort. Please join in if you’re a part of the community, you’ll be glad you did!

Joe for Oil Program: Helping MA Families in Need to Heat Their Homes


Click here to subscribe to the Hilltown Families weekly eNewsletter!

Update for Winter 2011-12
Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program for the 2011-2012 season has begun.  Please note that they are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls.   Call center hours are Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM Eastern Standard Time.

Joe for Oil: Winter 2010

The Citizen’s Energy Heating Program aka Joe for Oil will be accepting applications after January 12, 2010. Applications will be available on their web site,, or via the telephone –please dial 877-563-4645.

Massachusetts households that heat with either oil or propane are eligible for 100 gallons.

Once Citizen’s Energy processes the application, the household will be notified by mail with a voucher. (Last year there was a 3 week time frame in processing applications.) The voucher includes the contact information of participating vendors. Last year the voucher was valid for 15 days.

Please note the voucher is for a 1 time delivery, max. 100 gallons. The household will need to plan when they would best benefit from a delivery. Many fuel vendors require a minimum delivery. For example if your fuel vendor has a minimum fuel delivery of 150 gallons, the household would use the Joe for Oil voucher for the first 100 gallons and pay the vendor directly for the additional 50 gallons.

The program will remain open until funding is exhausted. Additional details will be posted on the web site after January 12, 2010.

Should you have any general questions about this program or are seeking strategies to maximize your income, please contact the Housing Consumer Education Center at 413-863-9781, ext.150 or 151.

The Citizens Energy/Distrigas Heat Assistance Program was created for people who are struggling to pay their natural gas heating bills in Massachusetts. The program is open to those who low income families that have exhausted their federal fuel assistance benefit or to individuals ineligible to receive federal fuel assistance but cannot afford to pay their heating bills.

Fuel Assistance Resources and Information (Source: Citizens Energy)

Update: Fall 2012 (Source:

Home Energy Assistance

Community Action’s Energy Programs are committed to helping community members with low income in Franklin and Hampshire Counties cover their energy costs. Our programs work to reduce energy consumption, improve heating systems, and help pay a portion of fuel and utility bills.

Our largest program, Fuel Assistance, helps our neighbors with low incomes pay a portion of their home heating costs. The program is available to both homeowners and renters, and covers the primary source of heat. Program eligibility and payment amounts are determined by family size and gross annual household income. Payments are not intended to cover the entire cost of annual home heating, but can alleviate some of the financial burden.

Fuel Assistance participants are also eligible to receive discounts on their home phone and electric bills and may choose to enroll in our Heating System Repair Program, Weatherization Program, or Electric Efficiency Program.

For more information, please call Community Action Energy Programs at:  413-774-2310 or 800-370-0940
Community Action Energy Programs, 393 Main Street, Greenfield, MA

Hilltown Awarded Clean Energy Choice Grant For Solar Collection

Clean Energy Choice Grants Awarded to Green Leading Communities

Local commercial resources are available to support solar energy development in Western Mass . Recently the governor visited the Greenfield Solar Store in Greenfield, MA. He was briefed by owner Mark Skinder on how he's making solar energy a reality in the Greenfield community. Click image to read more. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Today, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announces Clean Energy Choice Grants awarded to the Towns of  Williamsburg and Williamstown by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust. The grants, totaling $70,076, help fund solar projects which further the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals.

“Recently state policymakers set dramatic renewable energy goals for the Commonwealth,” said Downing. “I am pleased these two communities chose to participate in programs such as this to generate clean energy on-site, save money and help preserve Massachusetts’ environmental assets.”


The Trust is awarding the Town of Williamsburg, located in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, with a Clean Energy Choice grant of $21,775.13 for the installation of a 2.97 kW roof-mounted PV system at the Anne T. Dunphy School. This system will reduce the Town’s energy costs and will help educate residents about the power of clean energy technologies. The installation will also include a Data Acquisition System that will allow viewing of real-time data on any computer on the school’s local area network.


Further, the Trust is providing the Town of Williamstown with a Clean Energy Choice grant of $49,011.49 to help fund the installation of a 16.38 kW photovoltaic array and Data Acquisition System on the Williamstown Department of Public Works salt storage facility. This system will reduce the Town’s energy costs and will help educate residents about the power of clean energy technologies.

Program funding comes as a result of efforts by Massachusetts citizens to purchase clean energy through their electric utility bills, which generated matching funds from the Trust for use toward clean energy projects.

Read the rest of this entry »

Safe & Green Campaign Asks Hilltown Residents To Act Locally: Retire Vermont Yankee

Randy Kehle of Colrain, MA writes:

If you live in one of the towns within 20 miles of the “Vermont Yankee” (VY) nuclear reactor in Vernon, Vermont–a.k.a. the “evacuation zone” (see list of towns below)–and,

If you would like to see this aged, accident-prone reactor retired on schedule when its original 40-year license expires in March of 2012, rather than allowed to operate for another 20 years, until 2032(!), as VY’s Louisiana-based, mega-corporate owner, Entergy Nuclear, is pushing for

Then, please click HERE to read and sign onto our letter to the members of the Vermont legislation, who may soon be casting an historic vote re Vermont Yankee’s future.

And then, please share this message with others who live in “Evacuation Zone” towns (list below) and urge them to send it out to their friends and neighbors. We need everyone’s help with this, ASAP.

The letter will be carried – by hand and on foot – to the Vermont State Capitol and personally presented to legislators by people from the evacuation zone who will be participating in a 120-mile walk, January 2-13, 2010 from Brattleboro to Montpelier, entitled “Step It Up to Shut It Down.” To join or support the walk, go to:

Towns within (or partially within) 20 miles of the VY nuclear reactor:

VERMONT: Brattleboro, Brookside, Dover, Dummerston, Guilford, Halifax, Marlboro, Newfane, Putney, Townshend, Vernon, Wardsboro, Westminster, Whitingham, Wilmington

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Chesterfield, Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Hinsdale, Keene, Marlborough, Richmond, Roxbury, Surry, Swanzey, Troy, Walpole, Westmoreland, Winchester

MASSACHUSETTS: Athol, Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Hawley, Heath, Leverett, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Rowe, Royalston, Shelburne, Shutesbury, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell

Russell Biomass Full Steam Ahead: Statement from Concerned Citizens of Russell

Jana Chicoine, Spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Russell, MA writes:

December 11, 2009 update from Concerned Citizens of Russell

Recent false media reports regarding the Manomet forest biomass sustainability study and Department of Energy Resources (DOER) suspension of biomass Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have led the public to believe that biomass power plants in Massachusetts are being meaningfully studied by the state and are “on hold” for a year, but a look at the progress of the Russell Biomass proposal shows that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Russell Biomass races full steam ahead is planning construction for 2010. They moved ahead last week with key assistance from a state government agency called the Department of Public Utilities (D.P.U.). The Department of Public Utilities, under Secretary of Energy and the Environment (EEA) Ian A. Bowles, has issued a final decision granting Russell Biomass exemption from local zoning restrictions on building height and setback. The decision is blindingly illegal because the Department has never conducted a proceeding dealing with only height and setback.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: