Massachusetts Cuts Renewable Energy Subsidies for Biomass Power

Massachusetts Cuts Renewable Energy Subsidies for Biomass Power

Policy overturns myth of biomass “carbon neutrality”

Pelham, MA – New regulations go into effect today in Massachusetts that will dramatically restrict renewable energy subsidies for biomass electricity plants. The policy is the first in the Nation to recognize that biomass power plants emit greenhouse gases, and curtail subsidies accordingly.

“Biomass power plants emit more carbon dioxide than coal plants per unit energy generated,” said Dr. Mary Booth of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provided input during the rule-making process. “The State of Massachusetts is serious about reducing carbon emissions and policymakers realized that providing renewable energy subsidies to a technology that makes climate change worse didn’t make sense. Governor Patrick and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources should be congratulated for basing the state’s renewable energy policy on sound science.”

At stake under the new policy are renewable energy certificates (RECs) worth millions of dollars each year to individual biomass power plants. Biomass power has generally been given equal access to electricity ratepayer-funded subsidies alongside no-emissions technologies like wind and solar power, but the new regulations will change that in Massachusetts – and potentially elsewhere.

Noting that there are about 170 proposed and recently built wood-burning power plants in the U.S., Dr. Booth said, “Biomass fuel harvesting represents a real threat to forests, because wood fuel for even a medium-sized facility requires the equivalent of cutting thousands of acres of forest each year. We hope these new regulations will serve as a model for clean energy advocates and government officials in the rest of the country, including Washington, D.C.” The Environmental Protection Agency is currently studying the issue of biomass greenhouse gas emissions.

Biomass power plants are typically around 24% efficient, blowing off more energy as waste heat than they use to generate power. The new regulations will require that facilities be 50 percent efficient to receive one-half REC per megawatt-hour, with 60 percent efficiency required for a full REC, thereby effectively restricting subsidies to combined-heat-and-power plants.  For a facility to receive RECs it also must demonstrate that its 20-year lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions are no greater than one-half the emissions from a natural gas facility. Critically, the regulations recognize that cutting and burning trees for fuel has a longer-lasting impact on carbon emissions than burning waste wood.

“There is no quicker way to put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than by cutting down trees and burning them for electricity”, concluded Dr. Booth.  “If we are serious about arresting global warming, we should focus support on the forms of truly clean, emissions-free renewable energy that Americans want and deserve.”

MA DOER’s regulations can be seen here.

Partnership for Policy Integrity