Calling biomass energy “zero-emission”? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Thirty-six groups sent a letter to the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) this week, urging the Commission to deny a petition by ReEnergy Holdings LLC seeking clean energy subsidies for its 60-MW Black River biomass power plant in Fort Drum, New York.
Under New York’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), biomass energy is no longer included in the state’s definition of “renewable energy.” Enacted in 2019, the CLCPA calls for the state to achieve 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero emissions electricity by 2040.
Following adoption of the law, the PSC revised the state’s Clean Energy Standard to remove biomass energy, consistent with the plain language of the statute. This means that the Black River biomass power plant will not be able to renew its contract with NYSERDA to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from the facility after the contract expires in May 2023. ReEnergy claims that without this subsidy, it will be forced to shut down the facility.
It’s hard to imagine how any argument ReEnergy presents could sway the PSC in what is really a very open and shut case. As the Commission has already stated, the statute leaves little room for interpretation. However, ReEnergy is resting its strategy on one last area that has not yet been clearly defined – the zero-emissions program required to be created under the Clean Energy Standard.
No one can fault the company for making one last Hail Mary pass. Still, there is one basic hurdle that ReEnergy has chosen to sidestep. Nowhere in the petition does the company even attempt to explain how they can justify calling a facility that emits more CO2 from its smokestack than a coal plant “zero emission.”
In our detailed comments, PFPI and Sierra Club laid out that no matter how the state ultimately chooses to define “zero emission” – whether truly zero or “net” zero – this biomass power plant will never qualify. If PSC were to establish a precedent by approving ReEnergy’s petition, it would make the entire concept of “zero emission” electricity meaningless.