State biomass use regulations under protest

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/9/2017 4:25:40 PM

An environmental research and advocacy group is calling on the state House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change to slow down proposed changes in incentives for biomass use.

The Partnership for Policy Integrity, which has ties to the area, plans to testify Dec. 11 before the committee on proposed Department of Energy Resources regulations it says would greatly expand allowable use of whole trees to be cut and burned for fuel. It will also claim greenhouse gas emissions from biomass burning will be undercounted while public and ratepayer subsidies to “polluting biomass facilities,” and potential pollution emissions will increase. In a Dec. 1 letter to DOER Renewables Division Director Michael Judge, PFPI President Mary Booth of Pelham criticized the agency for failing to respond to calls for a formal public comment period on the final draft regulations and on new and revised guidelines it posted Nov. 15.

Despite concerns raised by dozens of environmental groups, public health advocates, medical professionals, scientists and others, the environmental nonprofit noted, DOER has indicated that it expects the regulation to be promulgated Dec. 29.

“With the final draft APS regulation and guidelines for biomass,” she wrote in the conclusion of a dozen pages of comments on the proposal, ” DOER has strayed even further from the requirements of the enabling law and introduced new and substantial program modifications for which the public will have to pay. Unfortunately, DOER has denied the public the right to comment.

Booth added, “The department has gone to great lengths to shoehorn as much forest biomass as possible into the APS program, despite the objections of dozens of environmental, public health and consumer organizations and countless Massachusetts residents. While the Legislature authorized the inclusion of forest biomass in the APS renewable thermal program, it did not give the Department a free hand to develop the program — the enabling law includes strict provisions for what, if any, biomass technologies could be deemed eligible.”

The DOER in 2012 commissioned a study that found many commercial and industrial institutions in the state could be enticed by incentives to switch from natural gas and other sources to “renewable” heating or co-generation, PFPI noted. “The Legislature’s intent when it expanded the APS in 2014 was to promote low- or zero-emission renewable heating technologies, not to create an end-run around the Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations … but this is what the proposed APS regulations will do.”

Written comments on the proposed guidelines were accepted through Dec. 1, according to the DOER website. Testimony before the House committee today will be by invitation only.

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