OLYMPIA – A one-year moratorium on wood-waste-to-energy projects in Thurston County drew overwhelming support Monday night at a public hearing conducted by the Thurston County Commissioners.
Most in the crowd of 100 attending the evening meeting praised the county commissioners for the interim action they took Dec. 21 to not consider biomass projects in the unincorporated area of the county for at least a year.
The commissioners said they need time to investigate concerns about air pollution and to determine if enough wood debris is available in the region’s forests to support multiple projects without damaging forest health. They also want to study whether biomass projects would mesh with county land-use and zoning regulations. Several people who testified said Thurston County is the only local government in the nation to take a stand like this on biomass projects.
“It make me proud to live in Thurston County,” said Tumwater resident Walt Jorgensen.
Many at the hearing are Mason County residents battling a proposed biomass energy plant near Shelton that would burn some 600,000 tons of woody debris each year – and produce tons of air pollution in the process.
“I applaud you,” Mason County resident Tom Davis said, adding that elected officials in his community have embraced the project with few critical questions.
Also adding support to the moratorium in Thurston County is the Thurston Mason County Medical Society, representing some 400 physicians, the American Lung Association and the League of Women Voters of Thurston County.
The Evergreen State College is urging county elected officials to relax the moratorium so the college can possibly pursue a project to build a $14 million biomass gasification plant, which would convert wood waste to a synthetic gas that would be used to replace natural gas to heat the college campus.
A minority of those testifying supported the Evergreen project, which would use about 12,000 tons of wood debris per year.
Evergreen research associate Alicia LeDuc said she’s spent about 200 hours researching the pros and cons of Evergreen’s biogasification project, She said it is the most viable option for weaning the college off fossil fuels.
Others spoke out against the Evergreen project as a bad economic investment and a source of air pollution .
“It doesn’t make economic sense,” Jorgensen said.