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Green Committee formally opposes biomass plant

Date: 4/21/2010

April 21, 2010.

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The city's Special Committee on Green City Initiatives took a bold step at its last meeting by having its members unanimously agree they are in opposition of the proposed biomass plant.

"People use the expression NIMBY -- not in my backyard," committee member Burt Freedman said before the vote. "I say not in anyone's backyard."

The motion, made by Freedman, followed a presentation from Dr. Mary Booth, founder of the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, regarding fuel supply and air emissions issues that could tie into the proposed plant.

Booth stated that biomass energy production -- which involves the burning of organic matter as fuel to generate electricity -- represents "a threat to forests and air quality and an increase in carbon emissions."

The carbon emissions from the biomass plant would be approximately 1.45 times more than what is currently produced at the Mt. Tom coal-burning plant and 3.96 times more than the proposed Pioneer Valley Energy Center which would burn gas to produce electricity.

Booth listed nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulate matter and metals like lead and mercury that aren't caught by filters as some of the emissions that could come from the plant.

She pointed out that these emissions in particular are a major concern for the Greater Springfield area, as instances of childhood asthma in Springfield are already twice as high as the rest of the state.

Booth added that the incineration plant proposed for Springfield would see up to 45 tractor trailer loads of construction and demolition debris hauled in daily to be burned.

"The science is a no-brainer," Freedman said following the presentation.

"Not to the proponents," Booth replied. "It's hard to see the impact because they think 'What harm can a little more pollution really do?'"

City Councilor James Ferrera III, chair of the Special Committee on Green City Initiatives, told Reminder Publications that the state's Department of Environmental Affairs (DEP) has put projects across the Commonwealth like the one proposed for a site off Page Boulevard on hold until studies on the full effects of the plants are completed and more public hearings take place.

"The Green Commission agrees with the state. We don't endorse this project and we won't [make another decision] until all the findings are presented," Ferrera said.

He added that while this is a major issue for the committee, it is also focusing on using more solar and geothermal energy in the city. Not only will alternative energies like these save Springfield money, Ferrera said, the energy could even be sold to surrounding communities to generate new revenue.

He said the committee will tackle recycling issues in the city (most notably increasing the rate at which residents recycle) and educate residents on the importance of energy audits as well.