Springfield City Council Passes Resolution Opposing Millions in State Biomass Subsidies

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night in opposition to state renewable energy subsidies for wood burning biomass incinerators in Massachusetts in the wake of final draft regulations being proposed by the state Department of Energy Resources that would weaken existing guidelines for taxpayer and ratepayer funded subsidies in what is known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard, potentially allowing millions in state funds to flow to proposed biomass waste incinerating power plants for the first time since 2012, and continued pending state legislation that would incentivise power from such facilities under the premise that they represent renewable energy production.

Councilors Jesse Lederman, Michael Fenton, Tim Allen, Adam Gomez, Orlando Ramos, Justin Hurst and Melvin Edwards filed the resolution on Friday after learning of the release of the DOER Regulations, which would weaken the existing state regulations in order to allow biomass plants to qualify. Councilors Malo Brown, Marcus Williams, Victor Davila, Tracye Whitfield, and Kateri Walsh joined as sponsors during the meeting.

Last year, eight Councilors including the sponsors submitted testimony to the DOER in opposition to what was at the time was a draft of the proposed weaker regulations during a hearing at Dugan School in Springfield that was attended by hundreds of residents in opposition. In August, eleven Councilors submitted testimony to the State Legislature urging changes to a bill that would have a similar impact - that bill is pending in Conference Committee.

“It is as if these new regulations were written specifically for biomass, and it begs the question - after nearly ten years why would the state weaken their own regulations? Who wants this sort of incinerator built so badly and why, when the data is so clear that facilities like these pose such serious public health and environmental risk?” said At-Large Councilor Jesse Lederman, “The days of potential polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over. We aren’t going to roll over and see this type of injustice thrust upon the taxpayers of Springfield and the Commonwealth.”

“You don’t need to be a scientist to know that burning wood is not clean energy. I urge the Springfield delegation to answer our call to stop the proposed state regulations which would enable biomass incinerators to be financed by tax credits. The last thing the people in this Commonwealth want it to use taxpayer money to pollute our air.” said Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton.

The resolution cites a letter sent last month by the Springfield Public Health Council in opposition to the same state tax credits, which stated “the potential adverse health impacts to our extremely vulnerable population are enormous.”

The resolution also cites a 2012 study by the state, known as the Manomet Study, which found that wood-burning biomass power plants emit more pollution than coal power plants.

The resolution calls for the Governor and DOER Commissioner to revise the regulations, for the legislature to revise its pending legislation and hold a hearing on the DOER regulations, and for the Springfield Legislative Delegation to file legislation in the new session to overturn any proposed tax credits for wood burning biomass power plants.

State Senator-Elect Adam Gomez and State Representative-Elect Orlando Ramos say they plan to do exactly that upon being sworn in in January.

“The legislature is ultimately the body that grants state agencies their authority to administer these sorts of subsidies and incentives, and it is clear that in this case it is being mishandled,” said Senator-Elect Gomez, “We will be working together to remedy this at the state level if necessary.”

“This is certainly a public health issue,” said Representative-Elect Ramos “Now more than ever we should be encouraging investment into clean air; not biomass incinerators.”

The DOER Regulations still need final approval from the joint Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature.

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