Delayed RPS rules stall biomass energy in Mass.

By Anna Austin | January 12, 2012

An extended delay of the filing of Massachusetts’ final renewable portfolio standard (RPS) regulations has created a lull in statewide biomass energy development.

The final ruling on RPS qualifications was released in May, and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources said it anticipated filing the final regulation in July after the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy had reviewed it and provided comments.

Six months later, however, the rules are still not out, and there is no definitive date as to when they will be. While not everyone in the biomass industry was happy with the revised RPS qualifications, developer Russell Biomass said it didn’t pose a significant problem to its project, which was modified to meet the standards.

Originally, the plan was to build a stand-alone, 50 MW biomass power plant in Russell, Mass. But due to the revision that biomass power facilities must a minimum efficiency standard of 40 percent—most achieve around 25 percent—in order to qualify as an RPS Class I Renewable Generation Unit, most proposed projects would be forced to add combined-heat-and-power (CHP) components to receive renewable energy credits (RECs). In doing that, qualifying biomass power projects would receive half a REC per megawatt hour (MWh), ratcheted up to one full REC per MWh upon reaching 60 percent efficiency.

“We can [now] meet those new regulations by converting the biomass only power plant to a thermal project that includes an 80-acre greenhouse,” said Peter Bos of Russell Biomass, which has restructured its proposed project to include the greenhouse, as well as improve its economics by proposing to use 100 percent rail supply for its wood chip fuel. The company believes its new plan would provide major economic benefits to the area, including 150 new jobs and locally grown vegetables. Additionally, the new project components would lower the power purchase rate by four cents from the rate for a stand-alone biomass power plant.

Nonetheless, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs will not consider the project until the new regulations are out, Bos said, though both the House and Senate chairs of the state’s energy committees are behind the project.

And aside from the lag in the release of the RPS regulations, the company needs support of Russell town officials in order to get a power purchase agreement approved by the DOER, and is working to do so.

In the meantime, it’s a waiting game for the filing of the final RPS regulations. “As a result, no biomass is being developed in the state, while adjacent states are supporting the same technology,” Bos said.