Massachusetts helping turn tide on biomass energy
Clean-energy advocates are hopeful Massachusetts’ leadership on fighting biomass pollution will drive change in other states and nations. The Bay State recently became the first in the U.S. to end renewable-energy subsidies for electricity from wood-burning biomass power plants as part of a new climate law.
Laura Haight, U.S. policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, explained there is a mounting body of science showing woody biomass is bad for the climate and has serious health concerns.
“The communities where these biomass power plants are built are frequently low-income communities of color with elevated health burdens, high rates of asthma and other health-related issues because they’re inhaling smoke,” Haight pointed out. “This is not healthy air that comes out of the stacks.”
Haight noted this is not the first time Massachusetts has taken the lead on climate action. It was one of the first states to set economywide greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals, and to create a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requiring a certain percentage of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy.
Back in 2012, Massachusetts adopted strict criteria for efficiency and fuels at wood-burning biomass power plants qualifying for the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. However, Haight said in 2019, Gov. Charlie Baker pushed a proposal which would weaken restrictions and allow polluting power plants from Maine and New Hampshire to sell renewable-energy credits here.
“Ratepayers subsidize these renewable-energy credits,” Haight emphasized. “The expectation is that extra money will go towards clean energy, not something that’s more polluting than fossil fuels.”
Haight argued other laws need to be changed in Massachusetts to prevent burning wood from being subsidized as either clean energy or clean heat. She is hopeful the next governor will be more responsive to the public’s concerns.
“We had been challenging these proposed new rules since 2019, and they would have been finalized next month if it were not for the Legislature making this change,” Haight added. “Nobody wanted it; there was just widespread public opposition to these rule changes.”
New Hampshire’s governor is opposing new biomass subsidies and Connecticut is restricting eligibility of biomass plants. This fall, the European Union will consider a proposal to prohibit the combustion of primary woody biomass from counting towards renewable-energy goals.