More Good News in MA: End of the Road for Greenfield Biomass Project

The proposed Pioneer Renewable Energy facility in Greenfield, MA, a 47 MW biomass facility that would have burned about  590,000 tons of wood a year (and emitted even more CO2) is no more. This was a long and twisting road for the citizens of Greenfield, but no doubt helped by the new and rigorous regulations in Massachusetts that eliminate subsidies to low-efficiency biopower plants, the Pioneer Renewable Energy project has been withdrawn.  PFPI didn’t exist when this plant was first proposed, but our predecessor organization, the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, submitted comments on the Pioneer project in 2009.  Kudos to the citizens who stuck out this fight and never gave up.  We’ve posted the full press release from Concerned Citizens of Franklin County below.



Contact: Janet Sinclair, Concerned Citizens of Franklin County

Greenfield, MA  July 18, 2013 – The plaintiffs appealing the Greenfield, MA  Zoning Board decision to grant a Special Permit for a 47 Megawatt biomass power plant filed a request in the Franklin Superior Court to annul the permit. The request for the Final Judgment came after Cambridge, MA based Matthew Wolfe of Pioneer Renewable Energy allowed a July 16, 2013 deadline to pass. The plaintiffs and the developer had agreed that if an amended permit was not submitted to the Greenfield Planning Board by the deadline, the permit would be annulled.

The permit was issued in July 22, 2009. 450 people attended the permit hearings. Most who spoke were against the project, expressing concerns including questions about the wood supply and negative health and environmental impacts. The project would have burned 600,000 tons of wood each year at the Industrial Park in north Greenfield. The Zoning Board  unanimously to approved the plan.

The need for an amended permit resulted from a citizen appeal of a Town Council decision to sell waste water to cool the power plant. Mr. Wolfe withdrew that part of his plan just weeks before the June 2010 vote, declaring the vote a moot point, but the voters decided by an 84% margin to overturn the Town Council decision.

The zoning appeal languished in the court while all sides agreed to wait for the new Massachusetts biomass regulations to become finalized. Those regulations were issued in August, 2012, and placed stricter standards for biomass power generators to receive state subsidies. In March, 2013, all parties in the lawsuit agreed on the July date for the developer to finalize his plans with the town with an amended permit using dry cooling, or the permit would be annulled.

Volunteer group Concerned Citizens of Franklin County along with volunteer regional experts fought the project since it was first proposed. Greenfield businessman Lenny Weeks, whose large outdoor signs at Tire Warehouse on Federal St. provided biomass updates and a place to sign petitions said “I am proud to be a citizen of a community that really pulled together over the years in our battle with biomass. I saw all walks of life show up and voice their opinions.” For Weeks’ son, Jesse, the news is a relief. “For the last four and a half years, the people of Greenfield and neighboring towns have lived under the specter of an industrial sized biomass incinerator- an anxiety and reality which settled like a pall over all our homes and happiness.”

Lynne Ballard and her husband City Councilman Patrick Devlin live near the project site. “Our lives have been on hold for the past four years, and we know others’ have been as well. We love our home and we love Greenfield. But we felt that we would not have been able to stay if the power plant got built. We are very relieved that, finally, we feel we can stay on our home,” said Ballard.

Glen Ayers is the Regional Health Agent with the Franklin County Cooperative Public Health Service. “This incinerator was a serious public health threat. It’s a great day for people with COPD, asthma, and many other ailments that are exacerbated by our deteriorating air quality. It’s a win for children, infants, and elderly residents who tend to be more sensitive to air pollution.” Ayers said that local Boards of Health had no say in the permitting process, while responsible for protecting local air quality. “The adjacent towns’ Boards of Health weren’t asked for their opinions about this incinerator. When a big polluting industry is proposed for our region, we need a regional discussion and decision. I am overjoyed that this ill-conceived plan been cancelled.”

Mary Booth, Ph.D , Director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity provided a technical reviews of the proposal and the group’s other efforts. “The biomass plant in Greenfield would have been one of the biggest polluters in Western Massachusetts. The withdrawal of the project represents a win for the climate and for public health.”

Chris Matera, founder of MassForestWatch said “Due to the tireless effort of local  citizens, biomass is gaining the dirty energy reputation it deserves and being exposed for the deceptive “greenwash” that it is.  Now citizens of Greenfield can start looking into genuinely “clean” and “green” energy sources as well as conservation and efficiency.”

“There were a hundred or more volunteers who brought the issues about biomass burning to light in Greenfield, and managed to stop this project.” said Concerned Citizens’ member Janet Sinclair. According to Sinclair, the Greenfield group coordinated efforts with groups from Russell and Springfield. The Russell developers withdrew their proposal for a 50 Megawatt biomass plant in October, 2012 stating that the new biomass regulations made their project financially unfeasible. The plan for a 35 Megawatt wood burning power plant for East Springfield is on hold due to a number of legal appeals, including of decisions by the City Council and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Partnership for Policy Integrity