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Baker Administration Would Block Renewable Energy Credits For Springfield Biomass Project

people rallying with protest signs
Paul Tuthill

In another blow to a controversial wood-burning power plant proposed in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Baker administration Friday announced regulations that would deny the project financial subsidies.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the proposed rule change would bar biomass projects located in an environmental justice community from qualifying for renewable energy credits.

"The update and the decision that you are seeing here is really based around insuring that communities that have a burden on them already are not continuing to face additional burdens," Theoharides said during a conference call with reporters.

Opponents of the biomass project, proposed more than a decade ago by Palmer Renewable Energy, have argued it would be detrimental to Springfield, where people already suffer from high rates of respiratory illness.

Massachusetts Energy Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said he met with Springfield residents and local elected officials who have fought the project.

"What we are really reflecting on is the enormous amount of public comment that we received to really integrate environmental justice in our regulations, which is a really profound step for the state," Woodcock said.

The new announcee regulations reverse a previous effort by the Baker administration to potentially give millions of dollars to the commercial biomass project proposed in Springfield.

City Councilor Jesse Lederman said people protested and an online petition he launched garnered more than 7,000 signatures opposing renewable energy credits for biomass.

"What we are talking about is an unprecedented movement -- a grassroots movement of residents, activisits and local and elected officials," Lederman said.     

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection revoked the air permit for the project. 

       Palmer Renewable Energy has appealed that decision.

Company officials did not respond to a request for comment on the renewable portfolio standard regulations announced by the state officials.

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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