Don’t Back Down on Biomass: The Continuing Saga

When Rep. Roy, the chair of the powerful Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (TUE) Committee visited Western Mass in late March, he acknowledged that TUE is hearing from people across the state about problematic biomass language showing up in a new bill, H.4503 , a bill that TUE reported out favorably and sent to House Ways & Means, where it awaits action.

Meanwhile, the bills the No Toxic Biomass Campaign is supporting just got another extension from TUE – through June 20th- which means our bills are still in play. These bills would end remaining subsidies for biomass in MA (see our website for more info about these bills and co-sponsor lists).  We await a Senate climate bill, which is why contacting Senator Barrett on this issue is important.

Everyone’s advocacy is really making a difference so let’s keep up the pressure!  If you haven’t yet reached out to your legislators or TUE, now is the time.

Current targets – in order of priority at this time:

  • House Ways & Means Chair – Aaron.M.Michlewitz@mahouse.gov, (617) 722-2990
  • Senate TUE Chair – Mike.Barrett@masenate.gov, (617) 722-1572
  • House TUE Chair – Jeffrey.Roy@mahouse.gov, (617) 722-2030

PHONE CALLS TO MICHLEWITZ’S OFFICE IN PARTICULAR WOULD BE GREAT! 

(Or a quick email to all three chairs listed above!!!)

Current asks for these legislators:

  1. OPPOSE sections 8 and 22 of H.4503 (formerly H.3216)

– Please eliminate sections 8 and 22 of H.4503. Section 8 would double incentives for wood-burning furnaces and boilers under the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS), giving these polluting heating options preferential treatment over heat pumps, geothermal, and other zero emissions technologies. Section 22 would eliminate a mandated study of the public health and climate impacts of biomass energy.

  1. SUPPORT S.2136/H.3210 and S.2137/H.3211

– We want this year’s climate legislation to eliminate subsidies for wood burning, which is detrimental to public health and the climate. Please advance S.2136/H.3210 and S.2137/H.3211, which would remove ratepayer-funded subsidies for biomass under the municipal light plant greenhouse gas emissions standard and the APS, respectively.

Update:

Last week, the bill we are opposing (formerly H.3216) got a new number and was published on the legislative website as H.4503. The bill language is unchanged from what we previously circulated, with sections 8 and 22 remaining the problematic provisions on biomass. H.4503 was reported out favorably by TUE and sent to House Ways & Means, where it awaits action.

Meanwhile, the bills the No Toxic Biomass campaign is supporting just got another extension from TUE – through June 20th – so they are still in play. These bills would end remaining subsidies for biomass in MA (see our website for more information about these bills and co-sponsor lists).  We are still awaiting a Senate climate bill, which is why contacting Senator Barrett on this issue is important.

BIG PICTURE:  

Between now and the end of the legislative session in July, the House and Senate will be negotiating a final climate package. We need to make sure that the new pro-biomass provisions advanced by Rep. Roy in H.4503 are not included in the final package, and use this opportunity to demand an end to all subsidies for wood-burning energy in Massachusetts!

We continue to push for the removal of biomass from the MLP greenhouse gas emission standard and from the APS.  We are still urging the TUE chairs to report these bills favorably out of committee, and now are also working to stave off the bad language in H.4503 (sections 8 and 22).

When TUE Chair Roy came out to Western Mass at the end of March, he acknowledged that they are hearing from people across the Commonwealth about problematic new biomass language.  So let’s keep up the pressure! 

 If you haven’t yet reached out to your legislators or TUE, now is the time.

We also need calls and emails to Representative Michlewitz, the Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee. Here is the link to an email action alert you can use to write to your legislators, and share with others!!

Back story

Between now and the end of the legislative session in July, the House and Senate will be negotiating a final climate package. We need to make sure that troublesome new pro-biomass provisions advanced by Rep. Roy in H.4503 are not included in the final package.  Let our legislators know that the only sane path is to end all subsidies for wood-burning energy in Massachusetts!

Read the whole story

We continue to push for the removal of biomass from the MLP greenhouse gas emission standard and from the APS.  We are still urging the TUE chairs to report these bills favorably out of committee, and now are also working to stave off the bad language in H.4503 (sections 8 and 22).

The good news is that when TUE Chair Roy came out to Western Mass at the end of March, he acknowledged that they are hearing from people across the Commonwealth about the problematic new biomass language.  So let’s keep up the pressure!  If you haven’t yet reached out to your legislators or TUE, now is the time – and now we also need calls and emails to Representative Michlewitz, the Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee. Here is the link to an email action alert you can use to write to your legislators, and share with others!!

What would Section 8 do?  

As currently written, Section 8 would DOUBLE the subsidy for ANY WOOD-BURNING FURNACE OR STOVE that qualifies for the Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS). 

Background:

An Alternative Energy Credit (AEC) is analogous to an SREC, which many people are familiar with, especially if you have solar panels at your own home. (SRECs and RECs are part of the RPS – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, while AECs are part of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS). Under either of these programs, you receive a credit, ultimately funded through everyone’s utility bills, if you install a qualified technology.

Biomass is part of the “renewable thermal” part of the APS; in other words, section 8 is about wood for heating, rather than for generating electricity. This includes large wood boilers and wood furnaces at institutions such as hospitals and schools, as well as smaller residential units.

Under the current APS statute, one AEC is earned for every 3,412,000 Btus of net useful thermal energy produced by the heating facility.  (Section 8 of H.3216 would cut this number in half, allowing users to earn one AEC for every 1,706,000 Btus of net useful thermal energy produced. This effectively doubles the subsidies paid out to wood-burning heating units.

SECTION 8. Section 11F 1/2 of Chapter 25A of the general laws, as so appearing in the 2022 official edition, is hereby amended by adding the following to the end of Section 11F 1/2 (e): The department shall provide that for facilities generating useful thermal energy by using eligible biomass technologies that also install an electrostatic precipitator or other emissions control device, an alternative energy credit shall be earned for 1,706,000 British thermal units of net useful thermal energy so as to improve air quality.

While the bill mentions electrostatic precipitators, which are only used on very large facilities, it also says, without limiting language, “or other emissions control device.” As someone put it, language this broad is big enough to drive a wood pellet truck through!  We should add that the APS already requires eligible wood-heating appliances to have emissions controls, and that under no circumstances does burning wood “improve air quality.”

What would section 22 do?

Section 22 would get rid of the biomass study that was required under the Climate Roadmap Law: 

SECTION 22. Section 102 of Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021 is hereby repealed. 

Section 102 of Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021 states:

The executive office of energy and environmental affairs and its various agencies and departments shall conduct a study within 2 years of the effective date of this act that shall include, but not be limited to: (i) an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions generated and projected to be generated by combustion within the commonwealth of the various categories and classes of biomass fuels; (ii) the public health consequences of said combustion for affected populations, together with estimations of the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and (iii) public health impacts of said combustion.  To inform the design and conduct of said study, the executive office shall hold not less than 3 public hearings.

The biomass study requirement was included in the Climate Roadmap Law in the context of the creation of the greenhouse gas emissions standard (GGES) for municipally-owned utilities (MLPs). The MLP GGES requires MLPs to source their energy from an increasing percentage of non-carbon emitting technologies, which would be great if it weren’t for the inclusion of biomass in its definition of “non-carbon emitting.” Because of all of our pushback on biomass, the Climate Roadmap Law ended up putting a five-year pause on the inclusion of biomass in the definition, and requiring the biomass study. That five-year pause ends in 2026, and, if H.4503 is passed as redrafted, there will be no study – just a state-mandated “non-carbon emitting” requirement that can be met by burning biomass.

Katy, for PFPI & the No Toxic Biomass Campaign

(413) 320-0747