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Biomass plant gets off to slow start

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(1/17) Thurmont’s proposed eco-friendly power plant that could open as early as 2011 has gotten off to a slow start, though there are some encouraging signs.

“It’s almost like I have to prove the job is feasible before I can get the grant to do the feasibility study,” said Bill Rodenberg, owner of Energy Management Strategies,
Rodenberg updated the town commissioners on his progress on conducting a feasibility study for a power plant that runs on biomass and wood waste.

“We came up with a plan that we think, for different reasons, make almost everybody happy,” Rodenberg said during the Jan.7 commissioners meeting.

Thurmont hired Energy Management Strategies in September to develop ways that the town can provide electricity to its current customers. Rodenberg is certified by the Association of Energy Managers as an energy manager.

Thurmont owns the distribution network for many of the town residents, but has to buy power to be distributed through it co-op with other municipalities. While many residents of the county have seen electric rate hikes in the range of 70 percent, Thurmont’s recent hikes added up to about 46 percent.

By generating and distributing its own electricity, the town will have better control over the rates charged to its customers. However, the way the town will be able to stabilize the rates will be by not connecting the power plant’s energy source to a fossil fuel. The plan is to use wood wastes and biomass like animals wastes to generate electricity.

“This is a case where we can do something positive financially by controlling costs, at the same,” Rodenberg said.

The plant will be able to remove 1.4 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, according to Rodenberg.

“That is not small. That is not insignificant,” he said.

The estimated costs to construct a 30 megawatt plant would be around $60 million.
“To the best of my knowledge, this would be the largest biomass plant in the United States,” Rodenberg said.

Because the technology uses renewable resources, the plant would also create energy credits that power companies that don’t use enough renewable energy resources would be anxious to buy. There are also many low-interest loans available to plants that would use renewable sources of energy.

“If we were willing to sell the REC’s (Renewable Energy Credits) to Allegheny (Power), they’d finance it (the plant) only they don’t know it yet. That’s how desirable these REC’s are,” Rodenberg said.

The hope is that the plant would also act as an economic development tool by attracting businesses that could benefit from stable power costs. Rodenberg said he has already spoken to one company that is thinking of moving 25-40 jobs to a new location and is willing to consider Thurmont.

Anyone with questions about the plant can e-mail Rodenberg at energy@thurmont.com.

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