SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Environmental activists voiced their opposition to proposed changes to the state’s renewable energy standards on Wednesday.
There are concerns that a wood-burning plant would make Springfield’s poor air quality even worse. Dozens of Springfield residents and activists gathered at the Duggan School to oppose biomass burning.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy is proposing to allow woodburning or biomass power plants to qualify as renewable energy. This would allow biomass plants to be eligible for taxpayer subsidies, which is a major policy reversal from the current regulations.
Springfield and Amherst already have biomass projects in the works. One Springfield City Councilor told 22News what he hopes Wednesday’s hearing will accomplish.
“Well, I think it’s very important that the DOER listens to the concerns of the community as well as industry experts,” said Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman. “Again this is a major reversal of a process that went through a very extensive public and professional input several years ago.”
“Springfield has a failing grade with the American Lung Association for air quality,” said Tanisha Arena, a Springfield resident. “Lots of people have asthma and other breathing issues and a biomass plant in East Springfield just would not work.”
The hearing was actually rescheduled so it could be held in a bigger venue. Many Springfield residents and environmental justice groups are expected to be in attendance.
Residents and local organizations are concerned that a biomass plant would further damage the air quality in the city. One local organizer told 22News her concerns about the plant’s effects on the health of local residents.
Katy Pyle told 22News, “We already have a really serious problem with air quality and asthma and respiratory illnesses here in Springfield.”
Palmer Renewable Energy has proposed a wood-burning plant in East Springfield.
Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman received a standing ovation for speaking out against the changes. But the state has awarded major grants to biomass projects, including $885,000 to an Amherst project, saying these types of projects continue the state’s commitment to low-carbon renewable energy sources.
The proposed subsidy changes would require biomass facilities to use wood from sustainable forestry management practices. A forestry professional supports the change.
“These fuels are renewable, and would directly replace fossil fuels, leaving ancient carbon in the ground, and utilizing biogenic carbon for our energy needs,” said the forestry professional during the meeting.
But some feel it would take too long to see a positive impact from biomass facilities. The state’s proposal gives plants 30 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.
The plant received its approval in 2011, and in 2015, won a lengthy court battle challenging its permits. If constructed the plant would be the state’s largest wood-burning biomass plant.
Governor Deval Patrick added higher emissions restrictions to biomass subsidies in 2012 after a state study found large scale plants could increase air pollution.