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New England News

Greenfield Passes Moratorium on Biomass Energy Plants

The town council of Greenfield, Massachusetts has voted to approve a 14-month moratorium on industrial biomass power generators and all waste-to-energy projects until September, 2014.

It’s believed that the 14 month moratorium on industrial size biomass burning and all waste to energy projects in Greenfield is the first of its kind in Massachusetts.   Eleven members of the 12-member town council approved the moratorium, with one member abstaining.

The vote came after a petition was submitted to the town council with a large amount of support from town residents.

Sandy Kosterman was one of the petitioners that came to the meeting to express their concerns.

"We were worried about health issues and the environment, and I think it's great that town of Greenfield is taking the time to study this," said Kosterman.

The petition came ahead of regulations that are still under development by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that would update the state’s Solid Waste Master Plan. One of the more controversial proposed elements of the plan would be to allow low-temperature waste-to-energy gasification facilities in Massachusetts.

Janet Sinclair, a resident of Shelburne Falls, and a member of the Concerned Citizens for Franklin County, which drafted the petition, said that because of the moratorium, Greenfield will be able to conduct its own research to determine if a biomass plant is right for the town.

"The town will be able to look at cumulative air impacts, it will be able to look at how much wood is being burned in Greenfield,  it can be looking at better alternatives for Greenfield," said Sinclair, "it will just be able to a kind of evaluation that otherwise just isn't done."

Janet Sinclair said that the petition was written so other surrounding communities can adopt language to craft their own regulations on biomass.

"Other communities can look at our petition, use parts of it that they like, add things, subtract things, but it's basically a precedent that's being sent," said Sinclair.

Greenfield is the site for a permitted 47-megawatt wood-burning biomass plant, which was approved by the town’s zoning board in 2009. An appeal of the project is also currently in Franklin Superior Court. The moratorium itself would not affect the proposed project.

In 2010, a ballot measure was passed to prevent a plan to use the town’s wastewater as a cooling agent for the proposed plant. The permit for the project will be revoked if the developer of the plant does not rework the design by mid July. 

Greenfield very recently received a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to conduct a feasibility study to take a look at a possible anaerobic digester in order to assist the town in processing sludge and wastewater.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin said that he was surprised by the amount of community support for the moratorium on biomass energy. The mayor said that the moratorium will allow the town to determine the true economic impact of an industrial biomass facility, which he considers now to be negligible.

"We're not really economically impacted by the loss of the biomass plant," said Martin, "even putting it in under these different circumstances are much different than they were at the beginning."

In 2012, Massachusetts enacted tough biomass state regulations that would require any facility to be proven to be more than 50 percent efficient in order to receive any renewable energy subsidies.

The moratorium on industrial biomass in Greenfield will extend until September 15th, 2014.

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