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New state regulations won't affect biomass plant permit

Date: 5/10/2011

May 11, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

BOSTON — New regulations from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) could affect future biomass projects, but does not necessarily impact the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) biomass facility in Springfield.

"Many people have assumed [because of the announcement of the regulations] that biomass is dead and that is not necessarily the case," EEA Secretary Richard Sullivan explained to Reminder Publications.

Sullivan said the new regulations set a standard of 40 percent efficiency for biomass projects if the owners of those facilities wish to apply for the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) program offered by the state.

The REC program creates a revenue flow to renewable energy facilities such as wind and solar, Sullivan explained. For a biomass project burning wood and creating a carbon footprint, the new regulations require greater fuel efficiency for a biomass plant to be considered for the program.

Sullivan stressed the PRE plant's permitting process is not affected by the new regulations. PRE is not required by law to meet the 40 percent efficiency benchmark.

The new regulations, which were sent to the Legislature for approval, came out of a study on the impact of wood-fired biomass electrical generating facilities conducted for the Department of Energy Resources by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences of Plymouth.

According to information released by the EEA, "The Manomet study found that the use of sustainably-harvested forest biomass to replace oil heat would likely begin to yield benefits in greenhouse gas emissions reduction in as little as five years. The same is not true for large-scale biomass-fired electricity, however, which, when compared with coal-fired electric plants, would result in a 3 percent increase in emissions by 2050, according to the study. Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts has set a greenhouse gas emissions target of 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and is mandated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy 80 percent by 2050."

The press release from the EEA announcing the new regulations stated, that, under the new guidelines, "several proposed biomass electric plants in Western Massachusetts would be ineligible to earn project financing through RECs."

Lee Ann Warner of the Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield issued a statement that read, "There has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the state's action. Although it is appropriate to require increased efficiency for biomass plants before they receive our tax dollars, PRE's biomass incinerator is still full steam ahead. Hopefully, the state's action will give Springfield city councilors more conviction to revoke the special permit granted to PRE. If the state has re-visited its support of large-scale burning of biomass based on newly available science, then Springfield city councilors should certainly start fresh by revoking the special permit granted in 2008."

The Springfield City Council will continue a revocation of the special permit for the PRE facility at a meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on May 17 at City Hall.


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