Sign on letter

Hon. Michael Barrett
Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy Massachusetts Senate

Hon. Jeffrey Roy
Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy Massachusetts Senate

Re: H.3333 / S.2197 An Act to prevent biomass energy to protect the air we breathe

Dear Senator Barrett, Representative Roy, and Members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy:

On behalf of the more than XX undersigned organizations, we respectfully request that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy issue an “ought to pass” recommendation for H.3333/S.2197 (Lesser, Livingstone, Ramos, et alAn Act to prevent biomass energy to protect the air we breathe).

H.3333/ S.2197 removes woody biomass from the list of technologies eligible for renewable energy incentives in the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS). These ratepayer-funded programs are best used to incentivize clean, non-emitting energy technologies, such as wind and solar, not wood-burning technologies, which cause harmful air pollution while exacerbating climate change.

The RPS and APS statutes must be amended to end their abuse.

In 2020, pursuant to the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs established net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the Commonwealth’s new legal emissions limit for 2050. The Next Generation Climate Roadmap law passed last year establishes interim goals and provides for emissions limits to be set for specific sectors, including power generation and the heating and cooling sectors. Yet the Baker Administration is set on using the state’s clean energy programs to incentivize wood-burning for heat and electricity.

By passing H.3333/S.2197, the legislature will put an end to the Baker administration’s efforts to roll back MA’s landmark 2012 RPS rules. Those science-based RPS rules were hailed nationally when they were adopted a decade ago precisely because they ensured that electricity-only biomass power plants would not qualify for subsidies, due to their excessive greenhouse gas emissions and overall inefficiency. The APS regulations that Governor Baker’s administration adopted in 2017 include weak emissions standards and weak forest protection guidelines for qualifying biomass heating systems. In 2019, DOER proposed weakening the RPS regulations to match the APS regulations, calling it “regulatory streamlining.” The new rules would allow these highly polluting stand-alone biomass power plants to once again qualify for ratepayer subsidies.

Rather than tinkering with definitions and efficiency requirements from administration to administration, H.3333/S.2197 removes woody biomass altogether from the APS and RPS programs. Such a legislative solution is the cleanest way to move forward—cleaning up these ratepayer-funded clean energy programs to support more non-emitting technologies, rather than combustion-based technologies.

Wood burning is not clean.

Troubling information continues to emerge regarding the health impacts of fine particulate matter emissions (PM2.5), the leading cause of air pollution-related illness and death in the United States. MassDEP cited multiple studies on the disproportionate air pollution and health impacts on environmental justice communities when it issued a letter revoking the operating permit for the proposed Palmer biomass plant in Springfield last year.1 

As for heating, although only a small fraction (less than 2%) of Massachusetts residents heat with wood, the latest EPA emissions data show that wood heating accounts for 83% of all PM2.5 emissions from Massachusetts’ heating sector, and 22% of the state’s total PM2.5 emissions. It makes no sense, from a climate or public health perspective, to use the state’s clean energy incentives to subsidize wood burning for heat or energy.

Massachusetts ratepayers have already spent millions of dollars to promote wood-burning technologies through the APS.2  

The administration’s RPS changes funnel even more millions to a polluting industry by subsidizing utility-scale economically unviable wood-burning power plants throughout New England 3—plants whose smokestack CO2 emissions are worse than coal per unit of energy generated.4

1 Letter from Michael Gorski, MassDEP to Vic Gatto, Palmer Renewable Energy, dated April 2, 2021 (available at Final-1.pdf).

2 See PFPI, Financial Considerations for H. 853, 5/5/19, pp. 2-4.

3 Booth, M. S. (2017). Maine Bioenergy at the Crossroads: Costs of a Failing Industry. Pelham, MA, Partnership for Policy Integrity (available at PFPI-Maine-Biomass-Report-4-18- 17.pdf).

4 See for instance PFPI, FAQs on the Proposed PRE Power Plant in Springfield and DOER’s Plans to Weaken Biomass Standards in the RPS, 5/29/19. (Note that while the new RPS regulations include a carveout to prevent Class 1 RPS subsidies for power plants in environmental justice communities such as Springfield, there are no such protections in the APS or Class 2 RPS regulations.)

During the Baker administration’s advocacy for its RPS rule changes, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office expressed concern that by expanding subsidies for biomass energy and weakening existing safeguards, the administration’s amended RPS program “would be inconsistent with the GWSA’s near- and long-term emissions-reduction mandates and its core “anti-backsliding” purpose.”5 Under the original RPS rules in place for nearly a decade, only a few small, highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP) biomass plants have been eligible for the Massachusetts RPS. The new RPS rules will expand the program to include inefficient and polluting biomass plants that were previously ineligible under the rules developed under the Patrick administration.

The climate crisis calls for immediate action.
Climate science shows that to avoid catastrophic warming, we must dramatically reduce GHG emissions over the next eight years and increase uptake of CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. Healey’s letter notes, “In light of the critical role forests play in mitigating emissions, the Commonwealth should be working to preserve and replenish our forests as important carbon sinks, not putting in place incentives to burn them as fuel.”

With such a short timeframe for meaningful climate action, it is imperative that clean energy funding and incentives be used to promote new zero-carbon-emission resources, both for heating and electricity, to displace fossil fuels. At the very least, they should not be used to support technologies that add more carbon dioxide and air pollution than fossil fueled sources.

We urge the Committee to amend and report H.3333/S.2197 out favorably in order for this legislation to be considered this session. Further, should the General Court take up broad and multifaceted energy legislation this session, we urge the inclusion of this legislation. The Commonwealth will not be able to meet its climate mandates if it continues to subsidize polluting technologies through its clean energy programs.

[organizations to be listed alphabetically as follows]

Name, Title Organization City, State

5 Office of Attorney General Maura Healey, Comments to DOER on proposed amendments to RPS regulations, 7/26/19 (available at MA-AGO-RPS-Biomass-Comments_FINAL1.pdf).