A proposal from the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to change the state’s renewable energy standards is being met by opposition from groups and individuals who say it will allow controversial biomass power plants to be built.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources held the fourth, and final, scheduled public hearing on changes to the state’s renewable portfolio standard in a muggy Springfield middle school auditorium with more than 100 people in the seats. Sixty people signed up to speak.
Before the hearing got underway, out in front of the school a group of about 75 people, some holding signs and banners and wearing surgical masks, protested the proposed regulations, asserting it would allow taxpayer subsidies intended to support “clean” energy to go to wood- and garbage-burning power plants.
The regulations are being changed as a result of a 2018 law that doubles the minimum percentage growth rate of renewable energy from 1 percent per year to 2 percent per year, starting in 2020. The Baker administration’s proposal would allow electricity retailers to meet the new goals by purchasing from power plants not currently eligible for renewable energy credits.
Mary Booth, director of an environmental organization called the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said the proposed regulations would roll back rules established in 2012 that limited renewable energy subsidies to relatively small, high-efficiency wood-burning power plants.
"They've unilaterally decided to do a major roll back of environmental protections," said Booth.
Before 2012, large scale biomass energy projects were on the drawing boards in Russell, Greenfield, and Springfield.
Now if the proposed changes in regulations go through, Katy Pyle of Arise for Social Justice said it could pave the way for Palmer Renewable Energy to construct a 35-megawatt biomass plant in East Springfield.
"We think there is a direct link," said Pyle. " We are really concerned that Palmer is going to be able to build the plant that they proposed."
Last year, an attorney for Palmer Renewable Energy said the project had secured all necessary state and local permits.
The Springfield biomass project was the subject of nearly a decade of litigation, regulatory challenges, and protests by environmental organizations, neighbors, and elected Springfield officials, who contend it would raise air pollution and exacerbate already high rates of asthma in the region.
Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, with four other councilors at his side, spoke at the DOER hearing.
" We stand before you to submit testimony in opposition to the proposed revisions to the renewable portfolio standard that would allow for ratepayer subsidies to be granted to large scale wood-burning incinerators in Massachusetts," said Lederman as members of the audience broke into applause and cheers.
Also speaking at the public hearing in opposition to the proposed regulations were representatives from the solar power industry.
A bill has been filed in the state legislature to remove biomass from the state’s renewable portfolio standard.