State wood burning policy to face questions in Holyoke

  • Data from the EPA’s 2014 emissions inventory. Environmental Protection Agency

For the Gazette
Published: 8/4/2017 10:05:49 PM

Massachusetts has more air pollution from wood combustion than any other state in New England, with the greatest concentration in Worcester County, according to a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data that a group is using to pressure state officials to discourage more wood burning.

Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), a Pelham-based nonprofit research and clean-energy advocacy group, released its findings, based on EPA’s 2014 emissions data, as the state Department of Energy Resources is trying to accelerate the use of forest biomass for residential, commercial and industrial heating.

The organization plans to present testimony at a Holyoke public hearing Monday on the department’s new proposed regulations allowing wood boilers to be eligible for clean energy tax credits. The hearing is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon at Holyoke Community College.

State officials declined to comment, other than DOER spokesman Kevin O’Shea’s note that “While we do not have an official summary, the following background is what was provided in the notice to stakeholders of the public process:

“On June 16, 2017 the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) provided notice to all stakeholders that DOER filed an amended draft regulation with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, revising previously released language which includes renewable thermal technologies in the Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS). Additionally, DOER included new language, which adds fuel cells and waste-to-energy thermal technologies as eligible technologies, pursuant to Chapter 188 of the Acts of 2016. The draft regulation and accompanying Guidelines have been posted to DOER’s website for stakeholder review and comment.”

PFPI, pointing to wood-burning as a major source of fine particulate emissions, is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to halt these proposals due to public health and environmental concerns.

Fine particles — measuring 2.5 microns diameter or smaller, known as PM2.5, “are easily inhaled and can lodge deep in the lungs, where they can cause chronic heart and lung disease and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death,” said the organization this week.

Wood boilers are also contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, it noted.

Worcester County had the greatest county-level emissions in the Northeast from residential woodburning, with 1,898 tons of PM 2.5 released into the air in 2014, according to EPA’s National Emissions Inventory on PM2.5 emissions from wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces, including outdoor wood boilers. Worcester was the eighth highest county in the entire nation for residential wood-burning pollution.

Mapping the information, which PFPI Director Mary Booth said is an estimate based on Census data, showed that Hampden, Essex, and Middlesex counties had between 700 and 1,000 tons of PM 2.5 emissions in 2014 from residential wood burning. Franklin County had between 401 and 650 tons, according to the data.

“Why is the state of Massachusetts offering incentives for wood heating when wood burners are already a major source of air pollution in Massachusetts?” asked Booth. “Public funds should not be used to support so-called ‘clean’ energy technologies that actually make air pollution and climate change worse.” The organization also analyzed the relative contribution of biomass combustion to PM 2.5 emissions in Massachusetts and surrounding states, and found that in New York and New England, wood-burning ranges from 82 to 98 percent as the dominant source of the fine particulate emissions from heating homes and commercial enterprises.

Wood burning accounted for 83 percent of all PM 2.5 emissions from heating, and a quarter of the state’s fine particulate emissions, it found.

PFPI quoted Greenfield pediatrician Dr. William Copeland as saying, “The effects of particulate pollution on respiratory and cardiac health are well-documented. Massachusetts has an unfortunate combination of high childhood asthma prevalence and many days when air pollution exceeds EPA’s health standards. Permitting additional sources of emissions would be a mistake.”

The organization also sent a letter this week urging the state Clean Energy Center to remove wood burning from its proposals for a “HeatSmart Massachusetts” program that’s intended to encourage “clean heating and cooling technologies.”

Booth wrote on Tuesday to center Chief Executive Officer Stephen Pike, “We don’t understand why CEC, a publicly-funded agency dedicated to accelerating the success of clean energy technologies, is including wood burning on the list of “clean” heating options. Given that wood boilers emit more CO2, particulate matter and other air pollutants than new fossil-fired boilers, use of the word “clean” is misleading. It is particularly inappropriate to be promoting wood-burning given that Massachusetts has more air pollution from wood smoke than any other New England state, with wood emissions contributing 83 percent of PM2.5 pollution from all heating sources in Massachusetts and a quarter of the state’s total PM2.5 emissions.”


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy