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Activists Urge Gov. Baker To Reverse Energy Rules That Boost Biomass

people rallying with protest signs
Paul Tuthill

    Imminent changes to renewable energy regulations in Massachusetts concern opponents of a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

    At a rally Wednesday in front of the Massachusetts state office building in downtown Springfield, activists launched a campaign to try to pressure Gov. Charlie Baker to withdraw proposed changes to renewable energy rules that would incentivize large-scale biomass power plants.

    The activists fear the new rules will benefit Palmer Renewable Energy, which for 12 years has pushed to build a 35-megawatt biomass plant at an industrial site in East Springfield.  The project has been the target of public protests and court challenges, where the developer has always prevailed.

     An update to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – the regulatory mandate for using power from renewable sources –is on track to be finalized early this year.

    "The governor can stop this, if he chooses to stop it," said Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

     The 11th hour campaign to get the Baker administration to reverse course on making biomass eligible for renewable energy subsidies will include letter-writing, phone banks, and social media, according to McArthur.

    "We have a very well organized campaign and there is a lot of opposition to this around the state," said McArthur.

     Opponents of the Springfield biomass project have long argued that a wood-burning power plant would have a devastating impact on the city that was dubbed “Asthma Capital” in 2019 by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

       The developers of the proposed biomass plant in Springfield have pointed out that it has received an air permit from state regulators and that Massachusetts has among the toughest air quality standards in the country.

             At Wednesday’s rally, speakers urged Gov. Baker to come to Springfield and meet with people who they said would be severely impacted if the biomass plant is built.

   " I would like to tell Gov. Baker and Palmer Renewable that building a plant that releases  carcinogens into our community and communites of color is unconscionable and inhumane," said Naia Tenerowicz, a disabled cancer survivor.

     Elizabeth Pereria, a member of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate change organization, said Baker will face political consequences if he does not reverse course on biomass.

    "Because my generation we are wide awake and we are watching," said Pereria vowing to get Baker out of office if he does not do "what is right for the people in Massachusetts and the Springfield area."

     A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, in a statement, said the proposed regulatory changes will support development of clean energy in the Commonwealth as the state pushes toward a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

     The statement added that the Baker administration is committed to addressing the impact of emissions on communities facing disproportionate levels of air pollution.  It pointed to an amendment proposed by Gov. Baker to the recent climate bill that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to include a cumulative impact analysis as part of the permitting process on certain projects.

     The Climate Bill approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature includes biomass in a list of “carbon free” power sources.  However, the bill put a five-year moratorium on municipal power companies counting biomass as a renewable energy source.

       "That was not a total victory, but a meaningful victory," McArthur said.

      McArthur said opponents of the Springfield biomass project are eyeing a possible challenge to the validity of the building permit the city issued to Palmer Renewable Energy in 2015.



The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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