Environmental groups oppose state’s biomass incentives

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

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2019 12:12:17 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Dozens of environmental groups, many from western Massachusetts, are asking Gov. Charlie Baker to stop the promotion of wood burning for heat and energy, saying it is not environmentally friendly.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the groups took issue with a state Department of Energy program that recently awarded grants to renewable heating projects.

The request was signed by representatives from 31 different groups, including Westhampton’s A Beautiful Future, Climate Action Now Western MA, Easthampton Climate Response, Florence’s The Enviro Show, Northampton’s The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice, and Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

In February, the state’s Renewable Thermal Infrastructure Grant Program gave $2.8 million for renewable heating infrastructure. The initiative aimed to increase the state’s reliance on heating with renewable fuels.

Four of the five grants given were to wood chip-related energy operations. In Amherst, Wagner Wood received $885,000 for equipment to process and move dried wood chips, and Pantermehl Land Clearing Inc. in Ashfield received $350,000 for wood-chip infrastructure. Grantees were required to match at least half of the costs of their projects.

“Wood burning is a major source of air pollution in Massachusetts, placing children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung disease particularly at risk,” the letter states.

According to an analysis of 2014 Environmental Protection Agency data from the Partnership for Policy Integrity — a group that signed on to the letter — burning biomass made up a quarter of the state’s fine particulate matter.

“The Commonwealth should not be incentivizing technologies that will accelerate climate change, worsen air quality, and use our forests for fuel,” the letter said.

The groups requested an end to any state program that incentivizes wood burning for energy.

Katie Gronendyke, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman, said in an email that the administration would review the letter, and remains committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy sources.

The environmental groups’ letter also promoted a recently filed bill that would take biomass out of the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which gives incentives to build infrastructure for energy that is “not necessarily renewable, but contribute to the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals by increasing energy efficiency and reducing the need for conventional fossil fuel-based power generation,” according to the state’s website.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com

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