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Sic transit "biomass"

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    Sic transit "biomass"

    The state dropped a bomb on "biomass" electricity yesterday. [ Renewable portfolio, biomass, final regulation, Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, April 27, 2012, at ]

    With Beth Daley absent and Erin Ailworth mercifully quiet on these matters, the Boston Globe lacks a reporter who covers environmental issues and carried only a cursory AP story. [ Unattributed, Associated Press, Massachusetts proposes regulations for wood burning plants, April 28, 2012, at ]

    A few years ago, "biomass" energy became an enthusiasm of the mercurial former environmental secretary Ian Bowles. It was never a strong candidate for an alternative energy source. Because of the high water and resin content of wood, burning "biomass" achieves low thermal efficiency and generates boatloads of fine, non-filterable particulates, for which there are so far only marginal control technologies.

    While it may have uses in remote, sparsely settled areas--northern Maine, perhaps, as an adjunct to drying wood--there are no significant opportunities in Massachusetts that could compensate for its disadvantages. With the previous restrictions on harvesting and cogeneration, it would be unlikely for any new "biomass" power-plant to be built in the state.

    The spike to "biomass" is inserted by a new "greenhouse gas reduction" rule, requiring a 50 percent emission reduction over the highly efficient, combined-cycle natural gas-fired plants that now produce most of the electricity generated in the state. If the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy project in Springfield were not trapped in the thicket of lawsuits it encountered, this new rule would do it in.

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    Will the Palmer project in Springfield survive?

    Sponsors of a wood-burning power-plant in Springfield, proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy, are still contending for their project. They have at least four efforts ongoing: a Land Court lawsuit seeking to reinstate a special permit under Springfield zoning, another Land Court lawsuit seeking to reinstate a previously granted building permit, an equity lawsuit against Springfield seeking damages for revoking the permits, and a second application for an air emissions permit at the Department of Environmental Protection. [ Peter Goonan, East Springfield biomass plant remains on hold, Springfield Republican (MA), April 25, 2012, at ]

    Their original application for an air emissions permit was approved, and it has not been made clear why they should be applying a second time. In the meantime, the state completely flipped its policy: from inviting and rewarding "biomass" burning for energy, to making approval for such a project next to impossible. [ MassDEP issues final state Air Quality Plan approval for Palmer Renewable Energy project, Department of Environmental Protection, June 30, 2011, at ]

    One could hardly fault owners David J. Callahan and family for feeling they have been double-crossed. In 2007 and 2008 they were being given cheerful welcomes by both the state and the city--the former eager for "renewable energy" projects and the latter eager for jobs, tax revenues and support of civic projects. Three years later both the state and the city were giving them the bum's rush. They had paid their political dues, contributing generously to state legislators and city officials, but suddenly they were being treated like lepers. [ Maureen Turner, Who is Palmer Renewable Energy?, Valley Advocate (Northampton, MA), December 24, 2011, at ]

    The state, in particular, messed up very badly--initially glossing over the air-pollution challenges from a wood-burning power-plant. Relative to electricity output, the Palmer plant would be considerably cleaner than Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired power-plant in New England. However, it would be much dirtier than the combined-cycle, natural-gas fired plants that now produce more than half the electricity generated in the state.

    For the power it can produce, Palmer would emit high particulates, probably ranking among facilities in the Springfield area second only to the Mt. Tom coal-fired power-plant in Holyoke. Data from the most recent comprehensive list of industries in the area show that if the Palmer plant had been operating at that time, it would have provided about three percent of electricity generated in the area but emitted about 12 percent of the coarse (PM-10) particulates and 21 percent of the fine (PM-2.5) particulates. The nearby MassPower plant emitted about the same particulates while producing over 12 times Palmer's potential electricity.