The Ellicottville Planning Board will spend the next few weeks finalizing an environmental impact study and issuing a decision on Laidlaw Energy Group's proposed 7-megawatt biomass electrical generating facility conversion on Route 219.
The project, first built on 17 acres in 1990 by J.D. Northrup of Ellicottville as a natural gas co-generation plant and wood-drying kiln, was taken over by Laidlaw in 2000 and later proposed for conversion to burn chipped pallets as a recycled fuel.
Last fall, the company made some changes to its plans and requested the Planning Board to review its draft environmental impact study, which focuses on the use of whole tree chips supplied under a private contract with Cousineau Forest Products, a New Hampshire wood chip supplier.
The facility is expected to employ 25 people and supply 5.4 megawatts of electricity to the grid, while creating 1 megawatt of power to operate a lumber-drying kiln. The document has drawn some opposition from residents and the planners. Town Engineer Mark Alianello and Planner Carol Horowitz, aided by environmental attorney Dan Spitzer, quizzed the company officials on those concerns as well as technical issues during a meeting Monday night.
Laidlaw representatives argued that because of the Cousineau contract, the source of the fuel should not be subject to the review and could contain some ground pallets. However, after some discussion, Laidlaw President Michael B. Bartoszek said he would consider placing restrictions on the source of the chips as whole-tree chips only.
Among other impacts discussed were the potential for introducing the Asian long-horned beetle in contaminated wood fuels, noise, odors, spoiled views, stack exhaust, pollutants from treated wood fuel sources, handling of the resulting ash waste, the potential for leachate runoff, spontaneous combustion or chemical changes in stored wood chips, unintended release of boiler water into the village sewer, local air-quality impacts during atmospheric inversion and the impact on snowmaking equipment used by local ski areas.
Planning Board members quizzed Bartoszek, his attorney and several consultants on issues, and the team agreed to provide additional information in some cases.
Bartoszek's team said the energy plant will not utilize fuel from experimental shrub willow plantations for at least several years, counter to information in some of its literature.
And Spitzer pointed out to the board that issues noted in the draft environmental impact statment regarding effect on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are irrelevant to determining the environmental impact to on the community.
The Laidlaw team agreed to provide a comparison chart of differences between wood chip fuel pollutants and those that were generated by the former natural gas co-generation facility. They also agreed to try to estimate the potential increase in air pollutants from the estimated additional 10 trucks per day that the facility will generate.
On the subject of temperature inversions, the consultants explained that air pollutants accumulate higher in fog layers but are dangerous only when the air mass breaks up after 10 a.m.