Springfield flips over "biomass"

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    Springfield flips over "biomass"

    Under the erratic Ian Bowles, former secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, for a couple of years Massachusetts bent over backward to encourage electricity generation by burning "biomass," without worrying too much about what that meant--promoting state and federal tax credits for renewable energy.

    That got more of a response than Dr. Bowles probably expected: more than a dozen proposals for new plants burning "biomass." In most of the Northeast, that would mean burning wood, but alarmists said some plants were burning tires. A well financed but unpopular proposal is known as Palmer Renewable Energy, to be located on land in Springfield owned by Palmer Paving, a manufacturer there of hot-mix asphalt paving.

    Maine now has 16 wood-burning plants with total rated capacity to generate about 300 MW, almost a quarter of the state's average electricity demand. Most started in the 1980s, and they are a substantial part of the state energy supply. In Massachusetts, however, finances never favored wood-burning, and the state has only one such plant, Pinetree Power in Westminster, started about 20 years ago, with 17 MW rated output. That represents about a quarter of one percent of the state's average electricity.

    Palmer hopes to leverage its location and operations. Neighbors are unhappy about living near a power-plant. Palmer's promoters on the Springfield City Council have faded, and last May councillors voted to revoke the permit issued in 2008. [ Mary Serreze, Biomass plant permit yanked, Northhampton News, May 24, 2011, at http://northamptonmedia.com/blog/05/24/2011/biomass-plant-permit-yanked-by-springfield-city-council/ ]

    With such a move at substantial risk in a legal challenge, residents are now trying to get the plant in Springfield ousted via zoning, by calling it an "incinerator." [ Peter Goonan, Springfield biomass plant building permits overturned, Springfield Republican, January 25, 2012, at http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/springfield_biomass_plant_buil.html ]

    Meanwhile, Dr. Bowles is no longer "with the state," and the state has flipped over political backwash from promoting "biomass," imposing such heavy restrictions that few proposals can qualify for permits and hardly any qualify for tax credits. Palmer may become a fortunate survivor, provided it is not an "incinerator."

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    Re: Springfield flips over "biomass"

    It is a funny debate. In western mass, we have a lot of wood lots. Likely over a million acres. We cut trees. Properly done we can manage about a million cord per year forever leading to about 1/3 million cord of slash or other product. 300k cords of wood product burned at home is enough heat for about 100k homes. Burned in an efficient plant for electric you can easily double the value. Some say leave the slash to rot some say this is ugly keep the trees. Most of what would be burned is the slash and the trim maybe if there are any local sawmills left. Much of the log used to go to canada. Their state subsidised saw mills killed local mills ten years ago. But now the cost of deisel pushes the equation the other way. Burning wood can be done in a home with a modern woodstove and just be mildly abusive to the air. In my town There is a lot of room between houses. Not an issue here. A wood plant designed to make power is ten times cleaner. Just because they want to extract the heat and that cleans the emissions quite a bit more than a home stove. Then they take the residue and make sure it is properly disposed of.
    Some folk wanted to belive that forests would be cut and whole trees fed into the power plant. They are just silly. That would be stuffing dollar bills into the stove to keep warm. We already do that with the price of oil now;- />
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    Biomass was "queen for a day"

    It might be nice if it were all so simple, but the state has been making it complicated. Palmer has revised its proposal, trying to keep up. Bigger plants get tougher treatment, so at last report Palmer was down from 37 to 30 MW capacity. No state tax credits now unless substantial amounts of heat are used in "cogeneration," so Palmer will likely be heating hot-mix paving.

    Palmer's wood won't burn more cleanly than anyone else's. Qualifying for an air emission permit means, unlike a home wood-burning stove, it has to install equipment to limit nitrogen oxides and filter out particulates. In addition to forest scrapwood, Palmer wants to burn left-over construction lumber--not necessarily more or less a problem than other wood. That's a hook on which neighbors, with help from the Springfield zoning appeals board, are trying to hang an "incinerator" label.

    In 2010, Gov. Patrick's political advisers became keenly interested in stopping a political embarassment from an insurgency protesting the state's promotion of biomass. Calling themselves "Stop Spewing Carbon" and other colorful names, insurgents circulated a 2010 ballot initiative. They proposed a limit of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour on any generation of electricity--so restrictive that no power-plant burning any ordinary type of fuel would qualify: solid waste 2990 lb/MWh, coal 2250 lb/MWh, fuel oil 1670 lb/MWh, combined-cycle natural gas 800 lb/MWh. Technologically illiterate reporters never understood.

    The ballot question was withdrawn after a deal with Ian Bowles, the mercurial former secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Dr. Bowles contracted with Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth to stab "biomass" in the back. [ Proposed biomass energy regulations, Massachusetts EEA, May 3, 2011, at http://www.mass.gov/eea/grants-and-tech-assistance/guidance-technical-assistance/agencies-and-divisions/doer/proposed-biomass-energy-regulations.html ]

    The state justified new regulations issued in May, 2011, with the heavily slanted analysis from Manomet, an organization that has said it is "philosophically opposed" to growing crops for fuel. Scientific arguments don't really matter much, because the topic has turned political.

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    Palmer "biomass" location in Springfield

    The proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant in Springfield has a good cover story, and its sponsors are no longer leaving opponents many objectionable facts, but that was not how they began, Unfortunately, their proposed site is located about a mile from New England's largest chemical factory, operated by Solutia--a factory with a long record of hazardous emissions and worker exposures to formaldehyde, vinyl chloride and asbestos, leaving nearby neighborhoods wary of air pollution. [ Solutia's background and recent plans for expansion: Jim Kinney, Solutia to expand at Indian Orchard, Springfield Republican, May 19, 2008, at http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/05/solutia_to_expand_at_indian_or.html ]

    Solutia's Springfield factory, formerly the Monsanto "Indian Orchard" operation, has made specialty chemicals since the 1920s, including phenol-formaldehyde, polyvinyl and polystyrene resins, plastisol coatings and polyvinyl butyral films for glass laminating and window coating. It deals with large quantities of volatile organics. It has a coal-fired steam generator and power-plant. The factory's past record of hazardous emissions has landed it on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "watch list" of chronic Clean Air Act violators, one of only four such sites in Massachusetts. [ Abby Conway, Four facilities on EPA watch list, WBUR (MA), November 7, 2011, at http://www.wbur.org/2011/11/07/epa-watch-list ]

    Also on the EPA list is Pinetree Power, Westminster, the state's only commercial biomass-fired power-plant. It has poor emission controls. Nitrogen oxide emissions have been very high, about ten times as much, for the power produced, as the maximum that Palmer says it will emit. Pinetree, based in Houston, TX, has also been in trouble with New Hampshire over pollution from its similar power-plant in the town of Bethlehem. [ State settles air pollution case with Pinetree, 2009, at http://des.nh.gov/media/pr/2009/090211.htm ]

    Palmer originally planned to burn construction and demolition waste wood, giving its opponents a field day. They complained that Palmer would have no way to know what contaminants it was releasing. [ Mary S. Booth, Re Springfield power plant, Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, November 16, 2009, at http://massenvironmentalenergy.org/docs/Booth-MEEA%20BUD%20comment.pdf ]

    It's easy to see how nearby neighborhoods in Springfield might be frightened about another plant that could land on the "watch list" of the state's worst polluters. More recently, sponsors of Palmer cleaned up their act, promising to use only green wood from tree trimmings and untreated wood from furniture, pallet and other factories making wooden products, also promising to install effective pollution controls. However, by the time they made changes, opponents had become politically entrenched and were affecting local opinions.

    Once politically engaged, opponents of Palmer Renewable Energy departed Planet Earth, claiming Springfield has terrible air quality. In fact, long-term EPA measurements show the Springfield area improving in step with the rest of Massachusetts and currently meeting all national air quality standards. [ 2010 Annual report on air quality in New England, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1, September, 2011, at http://www.epa.gov/region1/oeme/AnnualReport2010.pdf ]

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    Re: Springfield flips over "biomass"

    It does seem an issue of what do we do with stuff. So if material more or less qualified for a clean burn in an appropriate plant does not get burned then what. We bury it. Take cheap farm land and build a landfill. I agree that the standards have to be watched, but this is easy science. It is the political work that is hard and made more so by folks who will not listen. It is not in their interest to listen scince they gather money from their self centered slogans about pollution. It is in their interest to scatter doubt and lies in order to make more money to do more of the same.
    That said, Industry has a bad record of saying one thing and doing another. But they can be made to do specific things in order to meet requirements and these things can be publically monitored if we request it in the right legal arena with a solid contract and penalties to follow. It is a matter of good engineering and clear legal perspective to make these things work correctly. Not that hard, but the opposition should be as reasonable. Just my two. THKS
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    Palmer "biomass" hazards

    Useful air pollution information about industrial facilities often comes from permitting records. The agency to investigate for the proposed Palmer "biomass" plant in Springfield will be the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its Springfield office shows a Conditional Approval for this plant dated June 30, 2011. [ at http://www.mass.gov/dep/public/hearings/precpa_en.pdf ]

    The plant description mentions cogeneration only in "an extra [steam turbine] extraction port to allow for future incorporation of cogeneration." Emissions controls use ammonia injection, dry lime scrubbing, activated carbon, fabric filtering, a combination catalyst, proportioning controls and emissions monitors. Those are current state-of-the-art elements for boilers fired with low-sulfur fuels, including wood.

    Proposed fuel for this plant no longer includes construction and demolition waste but instead is green wood from land clearance and landscaping, lumber mill residues and untreated wood scraps from woodworking shops, furniture factories, and truss and pallet manufacturing. The plant will be not allowed to use any municipal solid waste or "treated wood" that might contain copper, chromium or arsenic compounds.

    Excluding common wastes means that the Palmer plant is not to become an "incinerator" in the ordinary sense of that word--contrary to recent claims of shrill opponents. It is to be a steam-operated power-plant fired by solid fuel--wood rather than coal.

    DEP evaluated maximum annual emissions from Palmer at 38 tons nitrogen oxides and 27 tons sulfur dioxide for 24/7 operation of a 509 MMBtu/hr boiler, producing 35 MW of electricity. Those amounts can be compared to the latest reported emissions from the coal-fired Brayton Point power-plant at Somerset:

    lb/MMBtu emission  Palmer  Brayton  ratio
    Nitrogen oxdes         0.017      0.13        8
    Sulfur dioxide           0.012      0.80      70

    Relative to amounts of output, the proposed Palmer power-plant is considerably cleaner than the largest coal-fired power-plant in New England, whose owner claims to have spent about $1.1 billion in recent years for pollution control upgrades to meet stronger state and federal requirements. [ eGrid data tables, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, at http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/egrid/index.html ]

    Brayton Point has become public enemy no. 1 for environmentalists who want to close down coal-fired power plants in New England, so few of them would find it a reasonable basis for comparison. As will be shown a little later, signs look less encouraging when considering air pollution sources near Springfield.

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    Springfield air pollution

    Opponents of the proposed Palmer "biomass" power-plant in Springfield are understandably more concerned about local air pollution than about facilities long distances away. The plant is expected to burn about 1,200 tons of wood per day. Using 25-ton trucks for shipping means about 50 trucks per day hauling wood, supplies and ash. The plant is to be located on busy U.S. Route 20, adjacent to a junction with Interstate 291. Air pollution from truck traffic is not likely to have heavy impact.

    Contrary to some latter-day evangelists in Springfield, the proposed Palmer plant would not be a major contributor to some of the area's air pollution emissions, adding less than two percent to emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organics. Here are the most recent published EPA emissions and electricity outputs for the area's major facilities with rated air pollution impacts, showing how the proposed Palmer plant would rank among them:

    Tons, 2005 *       EPA ID    SO2   NOx     VOC  PM-10 PM-2.5  GWh

    Mt. Tom Elec    0420040   4137   1417       14       80      35       4497
    Solutia              0420086     623     339     152       14       --          29
    Con-Ed W.Spr. 0420117     686     159        4        10      28        146
    Smith College   0420058       42    173        --        15        3           --
    MassPower      0420007       10     131      13        26      26       3077
    Holyoke G&E    0420038       58      68        1        22        3         274

    Palmer ^            ------------      22     30         9        27      26         245
    Covanta            0420006       71      21        7         3         2           41
    Texon Russell  0420152       17      48        --        15        2           --
    Callaway          0420014       20       --        40         --       --           --
    Hazen Paper    0420128         1       3        35         --       --           --
    Ameresco         0420110       22     11          5         --       --          25
    Churchill           0420071        --       --        38         --        --          --
    Chicopee Elec  0420232       26       3         --         --        --          5
    Intelicoat           0420193        9       --        23         --        --         --
    Chicopee Fill     0420233        2       7          6       15        --          2
    Lenox ASM       0420270        2       --        21         --        --         --
    Vertis                0420190        6        --       18         --        --         --
    Eastern Etch     0420149       --        --       24         --        --          --
    Danaher            0420150       4        --       13         5         --         --
    Hasbro              0420208       2        4        13         --        --         --
    Westover AFB  0420017      13        1         2         --         --         --
    Metso               1180471        1        --        13        --         --         --
    Tyco Ludlow     0420821       --        --        13        --         --         --

    Palmer percent of total     0.4%   1.3%   1.9%    12%    21%     3%

    * SO2 sulfur dioxide, NOx nitrogen oxides, VOC volatile organics, PM particulates, GWh billion watt-hours
    ^ Palmer output and emissions at 80 percent capacity factor, same as Pinetree Power in Westminster

    [ Massachusetts 2005 emissions by facilities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1, 2007, at
    http://www.epa.gov/region1/airquality/cpe02/docs/psl05/MA-*.pdf for * = SO2, NOx, VOC, PM10 and PM25 ]
    [ U.S. electrical generation for 2005, eGrid data tables, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007, at http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/egrid/index.html ]

    The coal-fired Mt. Tom power-plant in Holyoke, currently operated by FirstLight, was by far the area's worst polluter. The Solutia chemical factory in east Springfield, formerly run by Monsanto, was next-worst. It ranked third-worst in Massachusetts for volatile organics, the main source for ground-level ozone.

    If Springfield-area opponents of the proposed Palmer plant started thinking ahead, they might anticipate how to handle potential defeats in court for revocations of permits by Springfield's city council and zoning appeals board. Neither action was strongly grounded; both stand significant chances of reversal.

    For the power it can produce, Palmer would emit high particulates, probably ranking second among local-area facilities only to the Mt. Tom coal-fired power-plant in Holyoke. If operating among the other facilities in 2005, Palmer would have provided about three percent of electricity generated but emitted about 12 percent of coarse (PM-10) particulates and 21 percent of fine (PM-2.5) particulates.

    The MassPower plant emitted about the same particulates While producing over 12 times Palmer's potential electricity. Palmer could be challenged to reduce its smoky, sooty particulates by a factor of ten or more, in line with its electricity output and its other emissions.

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    Re: Springfield flips over "biomass"

    Nicely stated. The documentation was well done. How can this be forced into the brains of people who like lies and slogans. The issue is that facts have to fight into the disscussion. WHY?
     It is sad Appdev. So Lets fight for facts. We do not agree on interpretation some times, but facts ARE TRUE. Now you failed to address the consequenses of failing to put these consumable resources in a landfill. Trucking pollution, waste of arable land, water conservation issues of land fill and the mess of just burying stuff in someones backyard to prevent the pretty clean use of a resource.
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    Biomass becomes a minefield

    While long-term consequences of disposal by decomposition are fairly well known, decomposition times are not nearly as well explored and appear to be highly variable. When advising the state on biomass, Manomet in Plymouth chose to rest a case on time scales of decomposition, claiming biomass energy to be particularly harmful because of rapid release of carbon dioxide, while mostly ignoring methane from decomposition that produces the dominant greenhouse effects of that pathway. Diversion of biomass from soil tilth is also of concern for all potential industrial uses, including cellulosic alcohol.

    While particulates from wood-burning are obvious from home and small commercial uses, the Palmer filing was an example documenting an attempt to provide state-of-the-art control of emissions on industrial scale, so it suggested comparison with areawide emissions and nearby electricity generators. So far, Springfield opponents of the plant and their environmentalist partners have not caught on. It is unclear whether there are current pollution control devices that perform well at trapping wood-burning particulates. Dry scrubbing and polymer-fiber baghouses, as Palmer proposes, don't appear very effective.

    That partly reflects rising expectations from gauging by recent CCNG plants. While Palmer might consider wet scrubbing, there might not be an effective enough particulate control technology. The McNeil plant in Burlington, VT, is permitted at PM10 0.012 lb/MMBtu, currently the strictest limit in North America. While there are scattered reports of plants with lower actual emissions, Palmer would need about a factor of ten below its proposed PM10 limit of 0.016 lb/MMBtu to align reasonably well with industries in its area.

    Ian Bowles, the erratic, former secretary of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, led a chaotic effort that produced strong encouragement for plants like Palmer followed by swift reversal of support, once Gov. Patrick's political advisers saw that they had wandered into a minefield. For an apt comparison within state politics, one has to look back to 1969 and 1970, when strong support for urban highways under former Gov. Volpe was swiftly reversed by incoming Gov. Sargent. Both had previously served as state commissioner of public works.