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Green committee opposing state biomass guidelines



Recorder Staff
Friday, December 22, 2017

A set of proposed energy guidelines that would allow state subsidies for burning of “woody biomass” is being opposed by the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

The committee on Wednesday called on the state Department of Energy Resources to delay the biomass portions of its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard that were posted Friday, and to reopen the public comment period on the new provisions.

The report of the committee, which held hearings Dec. 11 on the proposal, was formally released Wednesday, although a representative for its chair, Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, said DOER and the secretary of Environmental and Energy Affairs were told about its recommendations before Friday’s filing.

The final draft regulations, which don’t become official until they are published in the state register, would allow the burning of tree material, as well as other technologies, to qualify for financial incentives as renewable energy sources. Included would be the burning of wood chips or pellets made from trees and cleared brush in biomass boilers, as part of a 2014 law that was backed by the logging industry.

Pelham-based Partnership for Policy Integrity, which was among the environmental organizations that testified before the legislative committee, criticized the panel’s decision to go ahead in spite of its concerns raised about increasing greenhouse gas emissions and calls for a formal public comment period on the final draft.

The committee’s report includes four recommendations, calling on DOER to delay biomass portions of the regulations “until further calculations are made regarding the greenhouse gas and health impacts,” that it should reopen the public comment period on the new provisions and that the Legislature should study environmental impacts of including biomass in the portfolio standards and “whether state incentives for biomass are appropriate.”

The committee also calls on communities to develop bylaws and ordinances with a “transparent, thoughtful, resident-based approach to biomass development and usage.”

The department says it plans to publish the final regulations by Dec. 29.

EOEEA spokeswoman Katie Gronendyke said in a statement that the regulations “will ensure the Commonwealth lowers costs for our ratepayers and reduces carbon emissions, while meeting legislative mandates for renewable technologies.”

Committee member Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, called for the new regulations to be rejected, and added comments to the report: “Burning any fuel to produce heat and/or electricity is a retrograde step in the history of technology. Burning wood, especially so.”

Provost added that burning wood to produce heat or electricity is not only a net producer of greenhouse gases, but also of particulate emissions, and that biomass-burning “is not an appropriate technology” for a state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that has adopted the Global Warming Solutions Act.

PPI Director Mary Booth reacted in a written statement, “DOER has repeatedly failed to respond to written comments on the many technical problems with the regulations, and even doubled down with last-minute changes that increase carbon pollution and climate impacts of wood burning in Massachusetts. So while we’re disappointed they’re ignoring the recommendations of the committee, we’re not surprised.”

Patrick Woodcock, assistant secretary for energy, has said the new financial incentives would give landowners income from low-grade wood, and also prevent landowners from selling land to developers, who would pose a greater threat to the state’s forests.