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Biomass study leaves many questions unanswered

(8/21)  Gov. Martin O’Malley seems excited by Thurmont’s investigation of using woody waste to generate electricity. He mentioned the project in his speech before the Maryland Association of Counties recently. Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns also noted that O’Malley’s staff was quick to finance a pre-feasibility study on the plant.

Burns said the pre-feasibility study was “not the study the Town of Thurmont wanted completed, but [Energy Consultant Bill Rodenberg] was required to do a feasibility study before he could find out whether it was feasible to do a biomass plant in Thurmont.”

The $70,000 pre-feasibility study was funded fully by two grants, one from the Maryland Department of Energy and the other from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The study showed it was feasible in the general sense, but left many questions unanswered.

The Thurmont commissioners and many residents want to see those questions answered before the project moves forward. Some town residents who have experience in energy matters and power plants have looked over the study and created lists of questions. To get those questions answered would require conducting a full feasibility study, which Rodenberg estimated could cost the town $250,000.

Commissioner Glenn Muth echoed the sentiments of some of the other commissioners when he said that while he was interested in the project he didn’t favor going further without additional grant funding for the study.

Rodenberg said that would become more difficult as agencies with grants begin to notice that the town “doesn’t have any skin in the game yet.” Many grants available would require some sort of matching funds from the town.

The commissioners plan to move forward by scheduling two meetings. One meeting will be technical in nature as Rodenberg meets with local energy experts and town representatives to talk through some of the technical aspects of the project and put together a list of questions that need to be answered. The second meeting will be a teleconference with other municipal officials who either have a biomass plant or something similar. The main question to be asked in this meeting will be “Would you do it again?”

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