Burn Notice: Massachusetts Expands Subsidies for Biomass Power Plants

3/21/22 Update: The proposed biomass changes were not finalized in November 2021, as had been widely expected. Secretary of State Galvin determined that a new public comment process would be necessary before the RPS rules could be amended.  The Department of Energy Resources has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed regulations for March 29, 2022. Read our latest post for more information.

It’s one step forward, two steps back for public health and climate action in the Bay State.

Just this April, PFPI wrote about a massive victory over the proposed Palmer biomass plant in Springfield. On the heels of a new climate law, a new environmental justice mandate, and a massive resistance movement, state officials revoked a permit for the long-contested facility—dealing Palmer a severe blow and giving Springfield residents’ lungs much needed relief.

But make no mistake – the Baker Administration is still bullish on biomass. This month, the Department of Energy Resources pushed through detrimental changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will once again allow polluting biomass power plants to qualify as renewable energy in Massachusetts. These changes, which citizens across the state have been fighting for more than two years, roll back science-based health and environmental standards that were adopted in 2012 after diligent and careful review of the real impacts of biomass harvesting and pollution.

Two new provisions in the regulations make it highly unlikely that any new biomass plants will be built in Massachusetts. But the power grid is regional, and Massachusetts utilities purchase renewable energy from across New England. Existing biomass power plants in Maine and New Hampshire, some dating back to the 1960s, stand to rake in tens of millions of dollars a year in clean energy subsidies paid for by Massachusetts ratepayers under Baker’s new policy. Out of sight, perhaps, but not out of the climate. 

What This Means – And What We Can Do About It

Governor Baker’s new policy will send ratepayer dollars to biomass plants in New Hampshire and Maine, and send pollution into our atmosphere, stymieing efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, harming forests on which our future depends, and diverting funds from the truly clean energy New England needs.

The Baker administration has claimed for years it is seeking to “streamline” energy incentives—but when so-called “consistency” rolls back safety and health standards and runs counter to science, who does it really benefit?

PFPI and our allies testified against Governor Baker’s RPS changes at a July oversight hearing because the weakened rules will export pollution and hurt our climate progress. And in two legislative hearings this fall, dozens of groups and individuals pressed the State legislature to permanently block Baker’s changes by removing woody biomass from Massachusetts’ renewable energy programs.

State bills S.2197/H.3333 (see fact sheet here) would protect our air, our forests, and our climate by eliminating Massachusetts ratepayer subsidies for biomass heat and power. In addition to cleaning up the RPS, it would end woody biomass heating subsidies in the Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS), which generate fine particulate pollution that is particularly harmful to human health. With Governor Baker lining up behind the biomass industry, it’s time for the legislature to act. Massachusetts residents: take action today to stop biomass subsidies. We need all hands on deck to protect our health and our atmosphere.

 

Partnership for Policy Integrity