Massachusetts Issues First In the Nation Biomass Energy Rules Based in Science
Limit “Green Energy” Subsidies to High-Efficiency Facilities
For Immediate Release: April 27, 2012
Pelham/Cambridge -- Following a rigorous two year review process involving scientists, industry and citizen groups, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) issued regulations today limiting ratepayer funded subsidies known as renewable energy certificates (RECs) to only those biomass power plants which adhere to certain state-of-the-art scientific standards for climate and forest impacts.
“Massachusetts made history today,” said Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), an environmental policy organization that commented extensively on the regulations. “The Patrick administration sorted out fact from fiction when it comes to biomass energy. In the end, they sided with science, and with the people of Massachusetts.”
In the past five years, more than 150 large-scale wood-burning power plants have been proposed around the country, driven by taxpayer and ratepayer-funded subsidies for renewable energy. The overwhelming majority of these plants depend entirely on burning wood from forests to generate electricity. Typical utility-scale biomass power plants burn 300,000 to 800,000 tons of wood a year.
Booth points out that the regulations respond to concerns that burning wood releases 50 percent more carbon into the atmosphere than burning coal, and three times more than burning natural gas, per unit energy generated. “Nothing puts carbon dioxide pollution into the air faster than cutting and burning forests”, explained Booth, whose PhD is in ecology. “Governor Patrick’s administration deserves enormous credit for drafting the first science-based policy in the country and recognizing that high-emissions biomass power doesn’t belong in a renewable energy portfolio alongside no-emissions technologies like wind and solar power. ”
The surge of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere when the trees are burned to generate power was at the core of a state study entitled the Manomet Report. The new regulations will promote smaller and more efficient combined-heat-and-power biomass facilities that require less fuel and have lower net carbon dioxide emissions over time.
Meg Sheehan, chair of the Massachusetts-based Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign, stated, “Incineration of trees and garbage should not get ratepayer subsidies intended for “clean and green” energy. These regulations are an important step to ensuring that when trees are burned for energy, it is done in the most efficient way that also preserves our forests. We will continue our efforts to protect forests and the public health from incinerators that try to disguise themselves as “green” energy.”
The new regulations, which take effect in June, require that biomass facilities must be 50 percent efficient to be eligible for one-half REC per megawatt-hour, which is slightly better than a state of the art coal-fired power plant. The regulations grant a full REC per megawatt-hour for facilities that achieve 60 percent efficiency. Facilities must also have twenty-year lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions that are no greater than 50 percent the emissions from a natural gas facility. The regulations also include harvesting standards designed to protect forest soils.
In 2009, the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign collected around 130,000 voter signatures to place a question on the Massachusetts ballot that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from woody biomass power facilities. In 2010, following issuance of the Manomet report by the state, the Campaign postponed its ballot question pending issuance of these biomass regulations. The Campaign continued its grassroots efforts throughout 2011 to ensure that the biomass regulations were strong enough.