The DOER will hold a public hearing on March 29th on its plans to expand renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning power plants.
It’s deja vu all over again in Massachusetts. The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has announced yet another public comment period on its plans to roll back Massachusetts’ science-based standards for woody biomass energy. The new rules would allow dozens of polluting biomass power plants across New England to qualify for ratepayer subsidies through the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS).
If all this sounds eerily familiar to you, you’re right. These are largely the same rule changes that DOER announced last April, that were debated before the Legislature last July, and which were expected to be finalized last November. But along the way, DOER took shortcuts with the public review process, so Secretary of State Bill Galvin has required DOER to do it all over again. No problem – we’re all getting good at this!
Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individual citizens have spoken out against these rule changes repeatedly since they were first proposed in 2019. Absolutely nobody wants them – nobody except the biomass industry and their cronies in the Baker Administration, that is.
Now, with only nine months left in his Administration, Governor Baker seems determined to push these regulations through before he leaves. What part of “no” does he not understand?
Take Action: Sign up to speak at the hearing on March 29th!
We’ve all had a lot of practice saying no to using ratepayer dollars to burn trees for electricity. It’s time to stand up and be counted once more! Register here to participate in the hearing, which will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, March 29th, from 1-4 pm.
The good news is that all the written comments submitted previously will be included in the record of this new rulemaking and need not be resubmitted. The proposed rules are almost exactly the same as last year (see below for more details). Anyone who wants to submit comments in writing has until Friday, April 1st. See DOER’s website for more information.
- Wood-burning power plants are not “clean energy” – they emit large quantities of harmful air pollution and are damaging to our health, our climate, and our forests
- The new regulations open the door even wider for dozens of existing, highly polluting biomass power plants across New England to sell renewable energy credits in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts ratepayers don’t want to subsidize polluting biomass power plants with their clean energy dollars, here or elsewhere!
- To meet our climate goals, we need to invest in truly clean renewable energy sources that don’t emit carbon, like wind and solar, and protect our forests, which absorb and sequester carbon
What’s new, what’s old in the draft regulations
The DOER will be accepting comments on the following components of the draft regulations, which they have classified into four categories (A-D):
- The full suite of RPS “Phase 2” biomass amendments that were proposed last April
- A new provision that exempts biomass plants built before 2022 from the proposed environmental justice siting requirements
- Increases to the RPS minimum renewable energy procurement standards from 2% per year to 3% per year for the years 2025 to 2029, to reflect the changes required under the 2021 Climate Roadmap Law
- Minor technical amendments that are not concerning
New biomass rules create loopholes you could drive a logging truck through
Although the proposed rule changes contain provisions that make it highly unlikely that any new biomass power plant would qualify for the Massachusetts RPS, they are riddled with loopholes for existing biomass power plants that are too polluting to qualify under Massachusetts’ current rules.
Massachusetts utilities purchase renewable energy from across New England. Dozens of older, highly polluting biomass power plants in Maine, New Hampshire, and other states 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.
Here’s how it would work:
- DOER is proposing to eliminate the 60% efficiency requirement for biomass power plants if they were operational before 2022 and claim to source most of their fuel from “non-forest derived residues.”
- DOER is proposing to significantly expand the definition of “non-forest derived residues” (including whole trees, in certain instances)
- DOER is proposing to eliminate the entire fuel tracking procedure established to certify compliance with eligible biomass guidelines, thus rendering it impossible to verify whether these plants are actually burning residues or continuing to burn wood chips derived from whole trees that were logged for fuel (a typical 40-MW biomass power plant burns more than a ton of wood chips a minute)
- DOER is proposing to eliminate the regulatory requirement that generation units using biomass cannot exceed the air pollution emissions limits in the RPS guidelines (this provision kept many older biomass power plants from qualifying for the Massachusetts RPS even before the more stringent biomass rules were adopted in 2012)
- In addition, DOER is proposing to eliminate the science-based forest and soil protections for biomass harvesting and replace them with vague and unenforceable “sustainable forest management” provisions
- Finally, with the new proposed change, DOER is rolling back a much heralded provision that it proposed last year barring any biomass power plants from qualifying for the RPS if they are located in, or within five miles of, an environmental justice community. DOER now is proposing to exempt plants built before 2022 from the environmental justice requirements.
Groups have already submitted voluminous comments opposing these biomass rollbacks. See joint comments submitted by PFPI and Conservation Law Foundation, a sign-on letter from more than 70 Massachusetts organizations and businesses, and comments from the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. Warning: some of these documents are quite long. Please use caution before hitting the “print” button in order to minimize paper waste! Click here for a factsheet on the APS and RPS.
The State Legislature must take action!
It’s up to the Massachusetts legislature to clean up our energy programs and hold the Baker administration accountable. Over 100 organizations are seeking passage of legislation, H.3333/S.2197, which would remove ratepayer subsidies for woody biomass from the Commonwealth’s two primary clean energy programs, the RPS and the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS). This legislation has been favorably reported to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, while a companion bill is also pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. The groups sent letters to both Senate and House leaders this week, urging them to include the biomass legislation in upcoming climate packages. For more information visit www.notoxicbiomass.org.