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PGP refutes pollution charges

By Kay S. Pedrotti A Massachusetts group recently petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency to review Georgia permits for Piedmont Green Power in Barnesville, alleging that the state permit has allowed the company to violate emission standards. Plants like Piedmont are designed to burn clean wood products or crop production results such as peanut shells, vines, hulls and residues from rice milling and grain elevator operations (collectively, clean cellulosic biomass), to provide electricity without using fossil fuels. David Dunbar, general manager of Atlantic Power, owner of PGP, said the company is in compliance and that EPA did not find that any changes needed to be made in the local plant’s permit, granted April 10 for a five-year period. In a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, signed by PGP plant manager Olin Hicks, each point in the petition by the Partnership for Policy Integrity was addressed and shown to be based on erroneous information or conclusions, Dunbar said. The PFPI, headed by Mary Booth, said in its petition that Piedmont was exceeding emission limits on several types of emissions controlled by EPA and EPD, including nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. The petition also alleged that PGP was burning contaminated wood — such as pressure-treated and/or containing such substances as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde. The PGP communication with EPD included a long list of stringent requirements for fuel suppliers, stating that any shipment of fuel not meeting the ‘clean cellulosic biomass’ standards is rejected and returned to suppliers. Also alleged by Booth was the charge that PGP was not being held to federal standards, not an acceptable practice for a company which received a Title V grant of more than $40 million as a part of the government’s renewable energy program, the petition stated. Hicks’ letter to EPD said the company received the grant because it ‘met or exceeded all requirements set out by the U.S.Treasury to secure such a grant.’ The company also provides 27 full-employment jobs in Barnesville and another 125 jobs for truckers, foresters, laborers and others who ‘prepare and deliver approximately 500,000 tons of biomass fuel to the facility.’ Wood burned at PGP, Hicks said, would ‘otherwise be left to oxidize on the forest floor, creating many times more greenhouse gas than Piedmont does, or be left to clog up landfills.’ PFPI’s information about Piedmont Green Power was gathered through a study of 88 biomass plants around the country, according to Booth. The wood-burning plants have been a source of controversy in Massachusetts but a highly praised method of producing electric power in California. Note: The PFPI petition as submitted to The Herald Gazette was 27 pages with more than 100 pages of exhibits. The Piedmont Green Power reply and attachments comprised 19 pages. This story has attempted to summarize the more important points.

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