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Biomass plant plans moving forward with governor's blessing

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

RUSSELL The controversial Russell Biomass power plant project took another step forward last week when Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that will provide an easement for the power plant transmission lines.

The 3.3-mile route along the slope of Mount Tekoa and Shatterack Mountain will be moved down closer to the CSX railroad tracks. The state had a concern that the original transmission route that would connect the power generating plant with the New England power grid would disturb a wildlife habitat.

Russell Biomass managing partner William Hull said that "moving the power lines down the mountain presented us with a number of challenges. The biggest hurdle was to obtain legislative permission to exchange the transmission line easement land which WMECO has control of for land down the mountain owned by the state and managed by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife."

Community activists and public health organizations have fought to prevent the biomass plant from becoming a reality. The proposed 50-megawatt power plant would produce electricity for 30 percent of the homes in Hampden County by burning 500,000 tons of clean wood chips each year "equivalent to an oil-fired plant that burns 480,000 barrels of oil per year," according to the Russell Biomass LLC Web site.

Jana Chicoine, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of Russell, said, "Massachusetts is turning to incineration instead of zero waste." She added the protected species of plants and animals in the area where the transmission lines will go will be subjected to herbicides.

Hull maintained the passage "a win-win for the natural habitat, for renewable energy generation and for the town of Russell which will benefit greatly from our project."