A city goes renewable, but raises questions about impact of biomass powerBURLINGTON, Vt. — When it purchased a small hydropower plant on the nearby Winooski River last fall, the municipally-owned electric utility here quietly nudged Vermont’s largest city into the sustainability spotlight. With a little creative accounting and the addition of the Winooski facility, Burlington’s 42,000 residents were now lighting their homes and running their businesses with a 100-percent renewable mix of wind, water and biomass.
That last resource raised some eyebrows, however, and not everyone was celebrating. Mary S. Booth, a New England ecologist, fired off a letter to the editors of the “PBS Newshour,” which was among many news outlets to herald Burlington’s achievement. She pointed to the city’s McNeil Electric Generating Facility, which burns wood to produce about one-third of the city’s power, noting that the plant emits a variety of pollutants, including greenhouse gases.
Being renewable, Booth suggested, is not the same as being clean and carbon-free.