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City Council Revokes Permit For Biomass Project

By Paul Tuthill


Springfield, MA – In another blow to the biomass power industry in Massachusetts, the city council in Springfield has voted to block construction of a wood burning power plant. A little more than two years ago, the city had green lighted the project. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

( nat ) Thunderous applause followed the vote Monday night. The Springfield city council chambers were packed with a standing room only audience. By a vote of ten to two the council approved a motion, introduced by city councilor Timothy Allen to revoke a special permit it had issued in 2008 to Palmer Renewable Energy.
In the months that followed the council's vote in September 2008 to grant a special permit for the 150 million dollar, 35 megawatt power plant, neighborhood opposition organized. Environmental activists campaigned against the project claiming it would adversely impact public health and safety
The project opponents were estactic over Monday night's vote, Lee Ann Warner is a member of the grassroots group called Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.
Frank Fitzgerald , an attorney and spokesman for the project developer said he was not surprised by the outcome..
Susan Reid, an attorney with the Massachusetts Conservation Law Foundation, one of the environmental groups that had campaigned against the biomass project, said her organization would help the city defend the expected lawsuit.
Councilors who voted to revoke the project's special permit said they believed they had just cause. They pointed out that details of the project had changed since it was first presented in 2008. At that time it was called a recycling facility that was to use construction and demolition debris , as well as green wood pellets as sources of fuel. Councilors pointed out that current plans would result in more truck traffic, larger trucks and a different drive-way configuration than what was proposed in 2008.
City councilor Timothy Rooke, who with councilor Katerie Walsh, were the only votes against revoking the permit, said the council was acting reckless and setting a dangerous precedent
The council's vote followed a four hour long public hearing the week before which featured sharply contradictory opinions on the impact the biomass plant would have on air quality. Palmer Renwable Energy is awaiting a final air quality permit from the Massachusett Department of Environmental Protection. The project has cleared all other regulatory hurdles.
Palmer Renewable Energy had touted the economic benefits of building the power plant in Springfield, claiming it would produce 200 construction jobs and 50 permit jobs. The developer said it agreed to pay the city one million dollars on top of property taxes.

The vote by the Springfield city council, heartened biomass opponents across the state. Susan Lang is fighting a biomass project is Greenfield

The Patrick administration, which once embraced bio mass recently crafted new regulations that would make it all but impossible for large scale biomass projects in Massachusetts to qualify for financing through renewable energy credits. The change followed a state commissioned scientific study that refuted claims that burning wood is green energy.