The Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (MLP) is showing itself to be a thought leader in it's approach to the procurement of energy. Last year, it 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. The MLPs of Reading, Braintree, Norwood, Danvers, and Taunton are some of the municipal light plant towns lured into entering 20-year contracts to purchase power from this allegedly “green” power plant. The Wellesley MLP, however, noted the carbon emissions, particulate and chemical pollution, and the environmental injustice concerns regarding the plant, and looked elsewhere for renewable energy opportunities.
An October 20, 2020 article in The Boston Globe entitled ‘In the Nation’s Asthma Capital, Plans to Burn Wood for Energy Spark Fury’ notes 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 already listed as the “asthma capital of the nation” because of existing industrial pollution. Not only do Springfield residents, half of whom are minorities, suffer from a higher rate of asthma than in other cities, but a quarter live under the poverty level.
The Baker administration has pushed to weaken the rules for biomass energy to qualify as “renewable” under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, allowing for rate-payer funded subsidies, potentially in the millions, to go to the Palmer plant, which is currently ineligible for these subsidies. Hundreds of Springfield residents, grassroots advocates, environmental organizations, health advocates, local officials and scientists spoke out at public hearings opposing these regulations, and over 100 groups signed on to written comments. 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 “generally 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.
In the closing days of July, the Massachusetts House of Representatives rushed through language in it's 2050 Climate Roadmap Bill – a broad package of climate proposals – that defines large-scale biomass power plants as “non-carbon emitting energy” sources. The Senate version - the Next Generation Climate Bill - contains no such loophole; Palmer is projected to emit nearly one ton of carbon dioxide per minute. A conference committee with three members each from the House and Senate will decide the ultimate fate of this legislation.
Just last week, 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.
“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.”
Do Your Part - Stop burning wood to be labeled as non-carbon emitting by MA state legislature
The Conference committee that is conferencing two climate bills is considering adding the House’s definition of wood burning as “non-carbon emitting” to our state laws to allow wood burning to receive state incentives for making electricity.
Wood burning is dirtier than coal.
You can sign this petition, and contact your legislators to demand they contact the Conference Committee Chairs Senator Barrett and Rep. Golden and tell them to not classify wood burning as “non-carbon emitting.” For draft language from the Sierra Club, and conference committee contact names, click here.