Biomass critics press lawmakers for more stringent regulations

  • Wood chips and wood pellets are two examples of renewable biomass energy options.

Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2021 9:10:08 PM

Local groups focused on environmental policy are trying to keep pressure on state officials to strengthen rules surrounding biomass energy, even after a controversial biomass plant in Springfield was canceled in the spring.

“We are hopeful that substantive legislation, including explicitly forbidding subsidies for woody biomass power plants, will emerge from this legislative session,” says Martha Hanner, a member of the League of Women Voters in Amherst.

Several area organizations recently signed onto a letter written by the Partnership for Policy Integrity in Pelham and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, calling for hearings on the revised Renewable Portfolio Standards issued by the Department of  Energy Resources.

Both the League of Women Voters chapters in Northampton and Amherst are among 86 organizations supporting the letter that is going to state Sen. Michael J. Barrett and state Rep. Jeffrey N. Roy. The letter expresses appreciation that the current regulations have the highest standards and now include an environmental justice provision, which would prohibit any wood-burning power plant built in or within five miles of an environmental justice community.

The biomass plant, Palmer Renewable Energy, had its air quality permit revoked by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection in April, and would no longer qualify for renewable energy credits under a set of regulations that the Baker administration revised and put forward. Those regulations require all new biomass going into operation after Dec. 31 to meet the overall 60% efficiency requirement, regardless of the type of biomass they’re using.

The groups are concerned, though, that new standards dramatically weaken some health and environmental protections in the current regulations.

“Ultimately the best solution may be to pass laws specifically excluding woody biomass from the state’s clean energy subsidy programs and providing broader protections for environmental justice communities,” they write. “Enacting these measures would ensure that Massachusetts’ ratepayers are supporting clean, renewable energy and not subsidizing more air pollution, particularly in environmental justice communities, where polluting facilities tend to be sited.”

The other immediate action is a letter that the Amherst, Northampton, and other area League of Women Voters chapters have sent to Attorney General Maura Healey, and to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides and local legislators, protesting the new standards.

“Here in western Massachusetts, we are concerned about protection of mature forests and the threat of clear-cutting to produce wood pellets or to site biomass-burning power plants,” that letter states.

Hanner noted that state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has filed several environmental related bills and that state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, intends to file an omnibus environmental bill that could address biomass projects.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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