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Rothschild waits for biomass answers from We Energies

We Energies’ proposed biomass project in Rothschild, shown in the rendering, will be the topic of discussion Saturday at a project open house. (Rendering courtesy of We Energies)

We Energies’ proposed biomass project in Rothschild, shown in the rendering, will be the topic of discussion Saturday at a project open house. (Rendering courtesy of We Energies)

By Sean Ryan

People in Rothschild have a lot of questions about how We Energies’ proposed $250 million biomass plant project will affect their neighborhood.

The community has not heard much about the project since representatives from the state and We Energies visited Rothschild in September to announce plans to build a 50-megawatt biomass plant next to Domtar Corp.’s paper mill, said Village President Neil Torney, who said the plant’s burner would be built 1,400 feet from his house.

“There’s a few concerned citizens who live near the plant who would, naturally, have a bunch of questions,” he said. Torney said his list of questions is seven pages.

We Energies is sending people to knock on doors within a mile of the project to share information and gather comments, said spokesman Brian Manthey. On Saturday, the utility will hold its first project open house in Rothschild, he said.

We Energies planners, Manthey said, want to hear concerns before applying for Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approval in March or April so the designs can be changed to alleviate problems.

The project will supply jobs to the community and other economic benefits, Manthey said.

“Those are all good things, and those are real good community benefits,” he said. “And we want to make sure that we are out there as well to address any issues.”

The village has gone through the utility project planning process before with Wisconsin Public Service Corp.’s Weston power plant, which was finished two years ago, said Roger Luce, executive director of the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce. But We Energies’ project would raise a different level of concern about traffic, noise and air quality because the proposed plant is closer to people, he said.

“The issue to be overcome, if it can be, is from the neighborhood,” Luce said.

A first concern is the 70 additional trucks that each day will drive up and down Grand Avenue, which is between the Domtar mill and the neighborhoods to the east, Torney said.

Manthey said We Energies will keep the trucks delivering wood to the biomass plant off neighborhood streets. He said the utility is considering other ways to prevent interference with through-traffic.

Some common concerns neighbors are raising — such as the effects on air quality and whether the new plant will smell worse than the paper mill — have been settled through the plant’s design. Manthey said the outreach effort is to deal with how the plant will affect neighbors and how residents perceive problems that already have been solved.

He said the project will cut emissions from the site by 30 percent. After the biomass plant is complete, Domtar will shut its four gas and wood boilers because the mill will use steam from the We Energies plant, he said.

We Energies has opened discussions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over the state air and water permits needed for the project, Manthey said.

Torney said it is early in the planning process, and he expects answers Saturday when the utility talks to the community.

“I have confidence in the DNR as far as issuing air-quality permits,” said Torney, “and also, our village will be very cognizant.”

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