City Council Questions Status Of Permits For Power Plant Project

Oct 19, 2018

An artist's rendering of the biomass power plant proposed for an industrial site on Page Blvd in east Springfield, MA.
Credit Palmer Renewable Energy

A proposed  wood-burning power plant that was the subject of  packed public hearings, protests, and court fights over the course of nearly a decade is suddenly back on the radar in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Springfield City Council, meeting in a special session, voted unanimously to request a report from city attorneys on the status of building permits that were first issued in 2011 to Palmer Renewable Energy for the construction of a 35-megawatt power plant on an industrial site in east Springfield.

Typically, building permits are good for 120 days; however, a state law allows for extensions if a project is delayed for certain reasons, including litigation.  The city’s zoning board, at the urging of the city council and plant opponents, voted to revoke the permits. A state appeals court decision in 2015 reinstated the permits.

City Council President Orlando Ramos scheduled the special meeting after an attorney for the developer told The Republican that a groundbreaking is planned in 2019.

"I assumed the project was dead," said Ramos, who told reporters he remains strongly opposed to the project.

" We already have some of the poorest air quality in the country," said Ramos, referencing a recent "F" rating from the American Lung Association. " We don't need a biomass incinerator to continue to  worsen our air quality."

Ramos said he remains strongly opposed to the project.

News the biomass plant might be built after the project had sat dormant for years caught many off-guard, according to East Springfield Neighborhood Council President Kathleen Brown.

" A whole bunch of people were surprised it was still on the table, " said Brown.  Several years back, the neighborhood council voted to go on record opposed to the project, but has not discussed it recently, according to Brown.

A  change this year in Massachusetts clean energy policy made biomass power plants eligible for state financial subsidies under certain conditions.  In 2014, Palmer Renewable Energy put a price tag of $150 million on the project.

 The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2011 issued an air permit for the proposed power plant over objections by the Conservation Law Foundation and other groups.

 In 2016, in what local environmental activists saw as a last ditch effort to stop the project, the city’s health commissioner declined to order a site assignment hearing by the local board of health.

The answer to whether the city-issued building permits have expired or not will determine what the city council can do, according to City Councilor Mike Fenton.

" Our opposition and my opposition to this project has been steadfast from the beginning, but that is not to say there is anything (the council) can do to stop it moving forward," said Fenton.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has been a supporter of the biomass power plant project, which would create about 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.