Thursday, December 16, 2010

TESC Responds To Misleading Biomass Testimony Given to House Capital Budget Committee

by Janine Gates

TESC Responds To Misleading Biomass Testimony Given to House Capital Budget Committee

Evergreen State College (TESC) vice-president John Hurley acknowledged today that his remarks to the House Capital Budget Committee last week about TESC's proposed biomass gasification facility may have unintentionally created some misconceptions about the college’s process regarding the project.

Hurley's letter to TESC's Sustainability Council is reprinted below.

Hurley optimistically told committee members last Thursday that TESC will begin the permitting process and that construction for the facility was expected to begin in the summer of 2011. He did not acknowledge that the feasibility study by TESC's Sustainability Council for the project was still ongoing.

TESC's sustainability coordinator, Scott Morgan, nor TESC's budget director, Steve Trotter, who is also TESC's Sustainability Council co-chair, have said they did not know Hurley was going to give the update to the committee.

Hurley gave the presentation to the committee as part of an update from recipients on grants received under the Jobs Act's K - 12 energy efficiency program. Evergreen received a $3.7 million grant in early October from the Washington State Department of Commerce towards the construction of a new biomass facility.

To reach carbon neutrality by 2020, the college is studying the issue in an effort to discontinue its reliance on fossil fuels to heat its buildings and produce hot water. TESC has also expressed interest in producing its own electricity using biomass. The use of biomass as an energy source is hotly debated within the state and around the country.

In a separate statement provided to this blog, TESC president Les Purce said he and Hurley are both committed to the process of the Sustainability Council in studying the feasibility of a biomass gasification facility.

“I want to assure you that both John and I are committed to the process the Sustainability Council is undertaking in the review of the biomass gasification proposal, and we look forward to their recommendations in early March. We are both committed to helping the college advance our sustainability agenda including our campus-wide carbon neutrality goals,” said Purce.

In an interview last week, Purce acknowledged the controversy around TESC’s proposed biomass gasification study.

“I realize that we cannot rest on our laurels, but I am surprised by the level of suspicion around Evergreen and the idea that we would do something that wasn’t in our best interest and would not move us closer to our carbon neutrality goals. I would like to add that Evergreen has a 40 year track record of leading on issues of social and environmental justice. We intend to uphold this long-standing tradition in the context of this biomass gasification feasibility study.”

Editor's Note:

The following emails from Steve Trotter, TESC's budget director and co-chair of the TESC Sustainability Council, and John Hurley were received today, December 16th.

They were sent to about 80 individuals, including the TESC Sustainability Council, members of the TESC Clean Energy Committee, and various TESC staff, faculty, students, and community members interested in the biomass issue:


On behalf of the Evergreen Sustainability Council, I wanted to forward to you John Hurley’s message to the Council regarding his recent testimony. I am also passing along a link our site that has links to the two presentations that you saw at our last Council meeting regarding the McKinstry feasibility report and the Sustainability Council’s draft schedule and process.

Evergreen’s Office of Sustainability Blog:

McKinstry’s Power Point Presentation:

TESC Sustainability Council’s Draft Process/Schedule:

I hope John’s message speaks to some of your concerns and that these two documents provide context into the work we are trying to accomplish. John is aware of the misperceptions he may have fostered inadvertently in his testimony, and encouraged me to forward his full response to you for your blog. We hope that this will also provide background to the conversations you engage in via your blog and elsewhere in the community.

I also want to reaffirm that Evergreen remains committed to the process you saw outlined during our last Council meeting.

Thanks Janine,

Steve Trotter

John Hurley’s message is below:

Dear Members of the Sustainability Council:

Last Thursday, December 9, I testified in front of the House Capital Budget Committee to report on Evergreen’s ongoing efforts to reduce its energy costs and usage. Part of this testimony included a brief report on the status of the biomass gasification initiative at Evergreen, for which the Department of Commerce has awarded us grant funding. In the process of providing this testimony, I unintentionally created some misconceptions about the college’s process and where we are in that process. I’d like to clear those up and send a clear message that I have been and continue to be committed to the college’s process for evaluating the appropriateness of biomass gasification as a tool for reducing our carbon footprint.

In the context of this testimony, I referred to the draft feasibility study which has been prepared by McKinstry. The draft version of this study provides encouraging data on energy savings, fuel and emissions. I was asked to provide the Capital Budget Committee with a timeline for the proposed project, and while I did provide a preliminary timeline to the committee, it was not meant to imply that our study process is finished or that we have reached a conclusion. The decision to move forward with the biomass initiative is still dependent on several critical factors, including the receipt of a favorable review from the Sustainability Council. I remain committed to the Sustainability Council’s process and timelines.

One of the concerns that has been expressed is that I did not mention the additional elements which are being studied by the Council in my testimony. I hope all of you understand that I was given only a few minutes to provide testimony, which didn’t leave much time for discussion re: our process. I focused my report on the concrete measures that Evergreen is taking to reduce its carbon footprint because this is the information the Capital Committee needs to conduct its work.

On reflection, it would have better if I had woven more information about the process into my testimony to prevent creating any misconceptions about where we are in that process. The fact that I didn’t shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the ongoing work of the Sustainability Council, including its ongoing efforts to determine whether this initiative would in fact result in a reduction of our carbon footprint. Satisfactory answers to the key questions being studied by the Sustainability Council will need to be found before the college makes a firm commitment to the construction of a biomass facility, and I did not intend to imply otherwise in my testimony.

That being said, I am enthusiastically looking forward to receiving the Council’s recommendations in early March to help bring this process to an essential milepost. My comments to the committee should be interpreted in this context. If the reviews by the Council, the VP’s and the President, and the Board of Trustees are favorable, indicating that the project will help us meet our sustainability goals, we would begin to move to secure permits shortly after the concluding recommendations from the Sustainability Council are received in March.



John A. Hurley, Ed.D.
Vice President for Finance and Administration
The Evergreen State College
360.867.6500 Office
360.867.6577 Fax

For more information about TESC's proposed biomass gasification facility, see other articles on this blog at by using the search button and typing in key words.