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Commissioners fund power plant feasibility study

(3/6) The Thurmont town commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 25 to fund $37,500 for a feasibility study for a biomass power plant in order to receive an additional $37,500 from a state grant.

The grant is coming from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. However, town officials are relatively certain they will be able to get another grant to reimburse the town contribution from the Maryland Energy Administration.

Bill Rodenberg with Energy Management Strategies will conduct the study, which will determine whether a power plant fueled by biomass would be successful in Thurmont, how large it should be and how much it would cost.

Rodenberg told the commissioners that he has failed to get some grants because the town hasn’t shown any financial commitment to the project. “I felt like I could go and grants from the state without the town putting anything into it. I was wrong,” he said.

Commissioner Glenn Muth said, “At some point, we’ve got to show a commitment.”

The commissioners are feeling the pressure of time to see if the plant could be brought online by the time the town needs to negotiate its power contract again. Thurmont already has one of the lowest electric rates in the state, but it is expected to rise when a new contract is negotiated in 2012.

Resident Sterling Bollinger was against funding the study. He told the commissioners if they wanted to play “venture capitalists” they should put up their own money. He also told them it was strong possibility they wouldn’t even have the permits for the plant by 2012.

The commissioners told Bollinger that if the plant could be a stock corporation, it might be easier to get the funding. Some even said if they could reap some of the profits from such a plant, they would be willing to put up some of their own money.

“I think we’re doing a disservice to the residents if we don’t look at it,” Commissioner Wayne Hooper said. “We already have the distribution system.”

The town will take $37,500 from the electric fund to pay for town share of the study, which is expected to be completed in 60 days.

If it comes back supporting the idea and the commissioners decide to pursue it, the commissioners will also consider putting together a citizens advisory committee to make recommendations about issues such as where to site the plant.

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