The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has filed final draft regulations to provide renewable energy subsidies for burning wood chips or pellets.
Environmental activists, public health advocates, and forest preservationists have all voiced objections over the guidelines by which woody biomass will qualify for the same types of clean energy financial incentives as solar and wind in Massachusetts.
The regulations that will become final once published in the state register on December 29th implement legislation passed in 2014 to include biomass boilers in the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.
Supporters of the new policy say it will reduce the use of natural gas and oil to heat buildings and help the state achieve requirements to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said the state won’t get to its greenhouse gas target by substituting burning wood for burning oil.
"We need to reduce emissions now," said Booth.
Booth was among dozens of people who testified earlier this year in Holyoke at the only public hearing on the proposed rules.
Charles Thompson, president of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, said biomass can help the state reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets.
"It is the ultimate renewable fuel," said Thompson. " It is abundant, local and growing far faster than it is being used."
Also, he said the incentive program will create a market for landowners to sell low-grade wood.
" The idea it is going to lead to deforestation is just ludicrous," said Thompson.
But critics say Massachusetts can’t dictate tree harvesting practices in other states and countries that produce most of the fuel for biomass boilers.
Another concern raised by opponents of renewable energy subsidies for woody biomass is air pollution. Michaelann Bewsee, Executive Director of Arise for Social Justice said the soot from burning wood can cause respiratory diseases and trigger asthma attacks.
"We should not be moving in the direction of burning anything to meet our energy needs," declared Bewsee.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts has more pollution from burning wood than any other New England state.