Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Mess We're In

Dan McKenna was guest on Local Bias June 25. He owns and operates Principle Profits Inc. of Amherst. Dan is a financial adviser and invests in socially responsible stocks and bonds for his clients. Dan remarked how his new clients often ask how much money they will lose in order to sleep with a clean conscience at night. According to Dan, responsible companies outperform other companies in the long term. They have higher productivity, morale, and retention because of their culture and smart business practices.

When I originally booked Dan, it was well before the mayoral race in Greenfield, and the bio-mass controversy had yet to gain much notice. In order to accommodate Bill Martin on Local Bias, I was able to bump Dan to June 25. I had intended to talk with Dan about the national economy, but he suggested we talk about bio-mass because he has done a lot of research into the renewable energy field. He stated during the interview that the proposed plant for Greenfield was a poor idea.

The proponents of the plant have used the McNeil Power Plant in Burlington Vermont as an example of a successful bio-mass burning plant. Dan pointed out that they don't use only wood, they also use gas. This plant is owned by the municipality so they don't have the same profit motive to burn construction and demolition material down the road when the cost of green wood escalates.

Mathew Wolfe of Madera Energy, remarked at the ZBA hearing on the 25th that because the project was receiving federal clean energy credits, they were precluded from burning C & D waste. I'm curious how long they would be prohibited from doing so. Madera Energy plans to sell the credits in order to help leverage value for possible investors. Several years down the road after the market changes for wood chips and the credits have been paid for, is there any statutory reason they can't apply for a special permit to burn other cheaper materials?

Presently, the Commonwealth does not allow the incineration of construction and demolition debris. Will economic pressure cause that policy to be reversed?

To my mind, the plant's disadvantages outweigh any pluses. It seems inefficient compared to burning wood for heat, provides few jobs and may scare away good companies, such as Applied Dynamics. It seems out of scale with our town. The zoning by laws were created for a reason. For the ZBA to allow an exemption in this case is to show a callous disregard for the law which they are obligated to follow, and the needs of the neighbors, who will doubtless find their quality of life diminished.

We actually have an excess of energy supply facilities in the Pioneer Valley. These are not being used to support the regional grid because of a lack of demand.

The health effects are also worrisome. The smoke stack height may not be tall enough to disperse the particulate matter during periods of weather inversions in our valley. My understanding is that the weather data comes from Westover Air Force Base. I don't necessarily trust the modeling used to justify the plant.

Burning trees is not carbon neutral. Burning trees releases carbon into the air. Five hundred thousand pounds a year of green wood a year would be cut down to feed this plant, so there would be fewer trees every year to sequester the carbon being released. The oceans have been absorbing such a large amount that the chemistry of the oceans is changing and may not be able to support life as we know it. The acidification of the oceans leads to calcium being leached out of coral reefs, the nurseries of the oceans.

The fact that this plant is primarily viable to investors because of clean energy tax credits is an example of the failure of big government to fashion solutions that really make sense. They throw our tax money at problems and often exacerbate them by rewarding the very conditions that lead to the problem in the first place.

As a people, we have to learn how to consume fewer resources. We have to learn how to make do with less. In my view, The idea that we are going to benefit from this plant, beyond a short term burst of construction, is outweighed by the long term damage it will cause.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bio-Mass, or Bio-Mess?

I attended the ZBA bio-mass Public hearing Monday night the 15th. It was scheduled for 7pm in the cafeteria of the middle school, and it didn't take long to fill that space beyond capacity. The ZBA moved the meeting into the auditorium, which proved to be much more comfortable, and conducive to the hearing for everyone.
I sympathize with the board members who sat through the meeting which lasted until just after midnight. Chairman Roy Cowdry was clearly in discomfort, and stoically listened to each speaker. Board member Tom McClellan gave each speaker two minutes, and allowed everyone to finish their thoughts after gently reminding them they had used up their alloted time.
I sympathize even more for the public which came out to share their views and concerns. Clearly, many of them were agitated and fearful of the consequences the proposed facility would have on their homes and quality of life.
This issue is not going away anytime soon. I've spoken with Mike Fritz, an intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate proponent of the Bio-Mass plant about appearing on Local Bias this summer. John Ward, selectman for the Town of Gill, and Co-owner of The Solar Store in Greenfield has also agreed to appear. I usually like to interview my guests one on one, but for this complex issue, I want to hear what Mike and John have to say to each other, as much as what they might say to me.
Our Mayor Elect Bill Martin, who sat through the entire meeting, had a great suggestion that we tackle each issue of the Bio-Mass plant in separate episodes. I don't have the funding to produce a series of that magnitude, but I am willing to set it up if funding is made available to hire crew. I'm grateful that my crew volunteer as much time as they do.
My next guest on Local Bias is Dan McKenna of Greenfield who owns Principle Profits Asset Management. We were originally going to talk about the world of finance, but I'm sure he'll have some expert information on Bio-Mass plants from a "green" investor point of view.
We'll be taping that program around 10:30am Thursday the 25th of June. Studio audience is always welcome.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Election Post Mortum

We recorded Local Bias yesterday, June 11 and had the good fortune to have Tim Farrell as guest. Those of you who follow Greenfield politics are no doubt aware of Tim. He's not even Forty years old, and seemingly has held office since Lake Hitchcock receded.

The interview will be shown on GCTV Wednesday June 17th at 5:30pm, and repeated Thursday and Saturday 9pm, as well as the following week.

Tim and I discussed the recent Town election. You'll need to tune in if you want to hear what Tim had to say, except he did announce that he is seeking the Town Council President position.

I was not surprised that Bill Martin won the mayoral election. He brought a lot of energy to the race, and did a great job of reaching out beyond his base.

I was surprised that Isaac Mass lost to Marcia Day for the one year school committee seat. He has much greater name recognition than Marcia. Chris Collins in his regular column in the Recorder suggested that her performance in the televised debate helped her cause. I also feel that Isaac didn't focus all his attention on the race. He's been very busy getting his law degree, and balancing that with meeting the needs of his young family. We will be hearing from Isaac in the future.

Keith McCormic defeating Donovan Eastman and Mike Phillips was perhaps even more surprising. Keith strongly supported Question 1 last year, which would have decimated funding for schools. I was so taken with his appearance in the "Grand Finale" debate Barbara Tillmans produced at GCTV, that immediately following it, I asked him to come on Local Bias. I didn't think he was going to win the election, but I thought he would make a great guest, and he has agreed to appear at a future date to be determined.

With seven televised debates, the voters certainly had the opportunity to hear the candidates. Kudos to all the groups and producers which sponsored the debates, as well as the staff at GCTV which provided valuable technical support.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria.

I had the great pleasure to interview local author Eve Brown-Waite. Random House recently published her wonderful memoir "First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria...." and she has been working hard to promote it. Eve is a fascinating woman and I highly recommend her book. It is about how she met her husband John Waite when he was a recruiter for the Peace Corps, and she joined up. Hijinks ensue and I would hate to be a spoiler to anyone who hasn't read it yet, so I hesitate to say more than to strongly encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself. It is also the kind of book that makes a great present. I hope Oprah Winfrey invites Eve on her own show. Oprah has a few more viewers than I do, and I want to share Eve with as wide an audience as possible.

In other news, election day is June 9th and I have Town Counselor Tim Farrell lined up to appear on June 11. I suspect that our conversation will discuss the results. Tim is a very thoughtul Counselor, and I have been looking forward to interviewing him for quite awhile.

Lately the proposed Bio-Mass plant has been generating interest and I have to say that I'm conflicted. I hope to discuss the topic with future guests and I hope the people of Greenfield can have a civil discussion and arrive at a solution or approach that rises above the polemics of the big box issue. That being said, I hope to have Al Norman back on the show to update and educate us regarding the proposed big box debacle.