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Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project

A rendering of the proposed biomass power plant in an industrial section of East Springfield.
Palmer Renewable Energy

       Environmental activists are keeping up their efforts to block construction of a long-proposed wood-burning power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

      With the end of the legislative session on Beacon Hill a month away, opponents of a biomass power plant proposed more than a decade ago are lobbying furiously to get language stricken from a climate bill that would provide valuable financial incentives to the project’s developer.

              The efforts include phone calls to the offices of legislators, letter-writing, and an online petition with close to 3,000 signatures, so far, requesting removal of language from the climate bill labelling biomass a “non-carbon emitting” energy source.

               Plans to build a 35-megawatt plant that would burn woody biomass to generate electricity in an industrial section of East Springfield were first disclosed about 12 years ago.  From the start it faced stiff resistance from nearby residents, local activists, and statewide environmental organizations.

      "We call it the zombie project because it keeps coming back to life," said  Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

       He said the plant would cause air pollution not just from the wood that would be burned, but also from the trucks that would drive to and from the site daily.

      " Its destructive to the local residents sound and air quality," said McArthur.

               Another line of attack, according to McArthur, is a challenge to the validity of the city-issued building permit for the plant.

      "We will keep fighting this on all fronts until it is stopped," said McArthur. "It really is a disaster for Springfield."

               Twelve of the 13 Springfield City Councilors signed a letter to the city’s building commissioner demanding that a cease and desist order be issued against the project.  Building Commissioner Steven Desilets said in July that Palmer Renewable Energy has a valid building permit.

                According to Desilets’ July report some work has been done to prepare the site of the proposed plant for construction and a “substantial investment” has been made toward what has been described as a $150 million project.

                In a demonstration of continued opposition to the plant, about 75 people rallied in September in front of Springfield City Hall.

                Tanisha Arena of Arise for Social Justice said the power plant would have a devastating effect on a population with some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the country.

      "To put a biomass plant in an environmental justice community that is already feeling the effects with black and brown people that is environmental racism," said Arena.

                The Springfield Public Health Council, in November, voted unanimously to pass a motion opposing the biomass plant.  The council chairman, Dr. Jeffrey Scavron, sent a letter to the co-chairs of the conference committee considering the climate bill urging them to not allow the construction of the biomass plant in Springfield.  

                 He said the potential adverse health consequences “are enormous.”

                 Last year, the Asthma and Allergy Federation of America said the Springfield metropolitan area had the nation’s highest per-capita rates of asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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