New state regulations strike another blow against proposed biomass project in Springfield (MassLive)
SPRINGFIELD — The state has dealt another blow to a proposed biomass project in East Springfield, announcing revised regulations banning such projects from qualifying for renewable energy incentives if they are located in or within five miles of an “environmental justice” community.
Subsidies had been available for biomass projects under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard prior to the changes announced Friday. The revisions are subject to a 30-day comment period.
Opponents have argued for years that the biomass plant would worsen pollution and harm public health, and urged the state to not provide financial incentives. The site of the biomass project in East Springfield is within a designated environmental justice community.
The new regulations will also bar new biomass projects that do not meet an overall 60% efficiency requirement regardless of the type of biomass they are using, said Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in announcing the changes on behalf of the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.
The Springfield project proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy does not meet that threshold, according to the state.
The state Department of Energy Resources “received overwhelming feedback from stakeholders, especially from residents in environmental justice communities,” Theoharides said.
“They spoke clearly and the administration heard their concerns about the negative impact these regulations could have for environmental communities if this regulatory framework was not addressed,” she added.
Palmer Renewable Energy has been seeking to build a a $150 million, 35-megawatt biomass facility on Page Boulevard for more than a decade, drawing significant opposition and legal challenges. The plant would burn wood to create electricity.
Palmer Renewable Energy no comment Friday.
The state Department of Environmental Protection announced two weeks ago that it was revoking a permit for the project due to delays in construction and environmental justice concerns. That decision is under appeal.
Environmental justice communities are those identified by the state as having lower income and larger minority populations deemed at greater risk of health challenges including asthma.
Theoharides was joined by Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of DOER, in announcing the revised regulations.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said that the announced change in regulations and the previous permit revocation “is an encouraging step forward for environmental justice, equity, and public health. In partnership with the community.”
“After nine years of collective anxiety, activism, and determination, residents of the Greater Springfield area can finally take a deep breath in their own backyards,” Lesser said in a prepared release. “These updated regulations announced by the Department of Energy Resources make it crystal clear that the Palmer plant will not operate within blocks of a school in the asthma capital of the United States.”
At-Large City Councilor Jesse Lederman, among the long-term biomass opponents, praised what he saw as being a reversal on the issue by the Baker administration.
The reversal is “the direct result of grassroots action by residents, activists, and local elected officials both here in Springfield and across the state, and acknowledges what the science told us: biomass incineration is not renewable energy,” Lederman said in a prepared release.
“The day’s of polluters being rubber stamped – and financed by our own tax dollars – in communities like ours are over,” Lederman said.
“That’s been our big battle since December,” said Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity “That’s when the Baker administration first proposed making biomass eligible for these credits. We wanted to know why are you doing this when it is only going to benefit one project, the one in Springfield.”
Opponents were concerned that the Springfield biomass project could become eligible for $13 million to $15 million a year in green energy incentives, Haight said.
The Springfield Climate Justice Coalition said it is gratified that the Baker Administration listened to the public opposition to the plant and noted that Springfield was named the “asthma capital of the country.”
We’re thrilled to see these protections for environmental justice communities included in DOER’s new RPS regulations; for far too long Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities have been disproportionately targeted as sites for toxic and polluting facilities,” the group said in a statement.
But the coalition lamented that it has taken 12 years to win the fight. And it is said the state’s latest proposal helps keep existing biomass plants.