Reject Energy from Wood-Burning Power Plant due to Carbon Emissions, Particulate & Chemical Pollution
Last year, the Town of Wellesley was given the opportunity to enter an energy buying contract with the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant in Springfield. This plant, not yet in operation, would be the first major commercial wood-burning power plant in the state.
At a time when municipal light plants seek alternatives to fossil fuels, the Palmer plant first appeared to offer an opportunity to meet energy needs more sustainably. In fact, the MLPs of eight nearby towns entered contracts to purchase power from this allegedly “green” power plant. The Wellesley MLP, however, noted carbon emissions, particulate and chemical pollution, and environmental justice concerns regarding the plant, and looked elsewhere for renewable energy.
Now, the Baker administration is pushing to weaken the rules for biomass energy to qualify as “renewable” under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. This would allow for rate-payer funded subsidies, potentially in the millions, to go to the Palmer plant, which is currently ineligible for these subsidies.
The Boston Globe reported that residents and city councilors in Springfield have been fighting construction of the plant for over a decade, citing health concerns in a city that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has listed as the “asthma capital of the nation” because of existing industrial pollution. Springfield residents, half of whom are minorities, suffer from a higher rate of asthma than in other cities, and a quarter live under the poverty level.
Hundreds of residents, grassroots and health advocates, environmental organizations, health advocates, local officials and scientists are speaking out at public hearings opposing these regulations, and over 100 groups have signed onto written comments. Notably, Attorney General Maura Healy called Baker’s proposed rule change a “step backward” in addressing climate change.
A state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass “…emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce much greater particulate and chemical pollution than coal and natural gas plants. Palmer is projected to emit nearly one ton of carbon dioxide per minute.
Last fall, the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act Implementation Advisory Committee issued a recommendation that biomass be removed from eligibility in the state’s RPS and other clean energy programs by 2022.
While this fight over the definition of “renewable energy” continues at the Statehouse, Wellesley residents can rest assured that their electricity is not coming from biomass incineration. “During my 20 years in Town I’ve always been impressed with how much importance the Wellesley community as a whole has placed on the impact their decisions have on other towns and cities,” said WMLP Director Don Newell. “The Municipal Light Board’s decision not to purchase electricity from a wood burning biomass plant is reflective of the entire community’s thoughtful consideration of others. Given the premium we place on renewable energy and fuel diversification this wasn’t an easy decision but the Light Board made the correct one.”
Anyone who wishes to sign the state-wide petition against defining large-scale biomass incineration as renewable can find the link here, or go here for more information