Russell Biomass terminates project

By Anna Simet | October 26, 2012

Russell Biomass, a biomass power project under development in Russell, Mass., has been cancelled.

 The 50 MW plant had been in the works since 2005. Its partners had successfully worked their way through a string of obstacles over the years, but were permanently halted by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ new renewable portfolio standard (RPS) regulations. In particular, a requirement calling for an increase in the minimum efficiency mandate of biomass power plants from 40 to 50 percent. Biomass plants now receive half a renewable energy credit upon reaching 50 percent efficiency, and one full credit beginning at 60 percent, feats which many argue is impossible for biomass plants.

“Under the final DOER regulations, the project is not technically and economically viable because of the required 50-percent efficiency, coupled with the new forest biomass fuel supply limitations,” said Russell Biomass partner John Bos. “We are unable to modify the plant design as permitted.”

 In a letter that Russell Biomass sent to the city selectman chairman, it pointed out several reasons why the project could no longer go forward, which includes the need to obtain new permits; difficulties in finding year-round thermal energy requirements for long-term contracts; inability to be price competitive with on-shore wind energy due to lack of local and state support; increases in the cost of fuel delivery due to new forest waste wood physical and administrative limitations; and potential lenders and equity investors becoming risk-averse to financing almost any renewable energy project in Massachusetts because of the regulatory uncertainty.

 The letter concludes that perhaps the most important consideration for the town of Russell going forward is, “how the site, now of little value, can be utilized to produce any meaningful tax value. A power project is inherently the type of project with the greatest taxable value.”






11 Responses

  1. Joe Mal



    A great victory for the environment and the taxpaying citizens!

  2. G W Hardee



    Good riddance to Mr John & Peter Bos and Bill Hull! Now is the time to ally and stop Palmer Renewable Energy in Springfield.

  3. weather01089



    This is a victory for the majority of the public that clearly didnt want this there. These plants do nothing to help the environment, which is the flag they tried to wave.

  4. JZ



    smaller scale, CHP and thermal biomass will be a good thing and deserve energy credits- at least as much as covering the hills in Shelburne Falls with wind turbines or paving over the landscape with hideous solar "farms" as in Orange, which solar "farm" is now a 17 acre desert covered with metal and glass smaller scale, CHP and thermal biomass will be the best thing to happen to forest mgt. since the boom in timber prices during the home construction bubble and it will be longer lasting of course the anti biomass Jihadists will fight to the bitter end to also restrict thermal biomass- but I think they'll lose that one, assuming there's an ounce of intelligence in state governmnet- a state where the governor was so terrified of losing the last election that he told his troops to kill biomass, despite the fact that just a few years ago the state was "ramping up biomass" big time.... I just hope the anti biomass crowd will prove that they're not hypocrites by stoping all THEIR carbon spewing by selling their cars/trucks and only using a horse- and I hope they only use candles to light their houses because when they flip on the light switch they're helping to blow off the tops of mountains for coal production and to frack the Earth for gas and of course we don't want THAT- and certainly I'm sure they'll never fly in a jet again because that's the most carbon spewing form of transportation per passenger mile

  5. Chris



    Thanks, JZ. Ignorant (not meant to be derogatory, but rather, literal)hypocrites, who have no facts or science behind their claims, remain counterproductive from the seat of their armchairs. I'll offer another "luxury" they should do without - TP - maybe they should use each others shirttails.

  6. Jimmie



    I agree JZ and Chris. There are a lot of people who constantly complain about our environmental-energy issues (carbon emissions)but then turn around and complain about every solution that is offered. The wind farms kill birds, the solar farms harm some lizard, biomass energy .. IDK ..causes trees to be cut down. Some people always find a reason to complain. However, I bet the computer that they are using to complain about environmental issues is not being run from a hand crank generator. :)

  7. Stephen Kaiser



    The demise of Russell Biomass is not the end of JUST this one project. It could be the end of all proposed biomass projects in Massachusetts that plan to burn fresh wood in any form -- logs, pellets, chips, etc. All of these plants will need a steady stream of logs and chips coming in, and that means a vast area of forests to supply each plant. The basic problem with biomass is that the green wood fuel supply comes in with half the weight being WATER. The only thing an energy plant can do with this water is to boil it off when the wood is burned, and send it up the exhaust stack as water vapor. All of this evaporation is wasted energy. It is no wonder that the average efficiency in New England for biomass electric generation is in the range of 15% to 25%. The best natural gas plants are 40-45% efficient. Biomass simply cannot compete without very significant subsidies. The new Massachusetts regulations forbid such subsidies to biomass that cannot attain 50 percent efficiency. It was just a matter of time before Russell biomass had to face the music and withdraw their proposal. There is no single special flaw that is unique to the Russell proposal. Other proposals burn green wood in boilers, and use steam turbines to generate electric power. If Russell is flawed and cannot succeed, other others cannot either. Biomass is not completely banished from subsidies. Using any fuel for HEATING is much more efficient than using it to GENERATE ELECTRICITY. Biomass burned for heat is easily better than 50% efficient. But the large plants that have been proposed to date are intended to generate electricity. That is why they will all fail to qualify for renewable energy credits and thus with be economically uncompetitive. The Russell Biomass decision sounds very logical in its reasoning. They understood the new requirements for biomass energy efficiency and realized that their own plant would not qualify for renewable energy subsidies. Without the subsidies, the project does not make economic sense, and like good businessmen they could read the handwriting on the wall. The only thing that Russell Biomass did not say is that every similar biomass plant in Massachusetts is doomed as well, for the same reasons. Stephen H. Kaiser, PhD Mechanical Engineer =================

  8. Jim Travers



    JZ wrote: "assuming there's an ounce of intelligence in state governmnet..."(sic) When referring to intelligence in a sentence you might want to be sure your spelling is correct. If there's an ounce of intelligence in our lawmakers, they'll prohibit such polluting and unsustainable technologies. They are new sources of toxic emissions and they accelerate climate change. And they'd consume 17 acres of forest within a week, every week. Try as they might to present their projects as "clean", or "renewable" energy, promoters of thermal energy producing technologies like biomass incineration, there's no evading the findings of science involved in thermal energy producing technologies. They are neither clean or renewable. In fact, most are extremely expensive and all are wasteful of our resources. And one must also recognize the very real limitations to "state of the art" air pollution controls. Currently there is no technology capable of filtering ultra-fine particulates out of any source of emissions. And what happens to the toxins that are captured by the chosen thermal technology's air pollution control devices? They are disposed of in a landfill or in the ash. Today every baby born is born with their tiny body already burdened with more than 200 chemicals that man has created that didn't exist 200 years ago. Every woman of child-bearing age has enough mercury in their body to cause fetal damage. Burning creates dioxins and ultra-fine particulates. Because of their incredibly minute size, they pose the most danger of all particulates because they penetrate deeply into our lungs, where they lodge. Some particles, if tiny enough, can pass even through our skin, our Brain-Blood and Placental Barriers. There are costs society incurs because of pollution that cannot be ignored. Creating new sources of pollution leads us nowhere and is a foolish waste of our scant resources, especially when we could be investing in truly clean and renewable power production technologies like Solar, Wind, Micro-hydro and geothermal applications.

  9. Don Blair



    Russell First is greatly disappointed that the Russell Biomass project is no longer financially viable. Although allocating power purchasing agreements may have been a contributing factor in reaching this decision, the larger issue is the state of Massachusetts intentionally choosing to narrow the renewable energy credit regulations by utilizing incomplete data from the Manomet study, which omitted the use of waste wood as a fuel source. This is not however, just about the termination of a single biomass project. The revised regulations have in effect stifled the construction of any new biomass facility within the state, with the ripple effect of the new guidelines having far reaching implications producing a negative impact on all forms of renewable energy. Opponents have long argued that biomass is "caveman" technology, yet they endorse spending billions of taxpayer’s dollars on federal subsidies for wind and solar. Their argument, among several in their arsenal, typically claims that "we got it wrong in the 80's" and now have a chance to "get it right" by further improving efficiencies though continued research and enhanced development. However for some reason, the opponents do not apply this same logic to advancing biomass technology. From the outset Russell First has supported this project not only with local tax and jobs benefits in mind, but also with a focus on biomass power being only one part of a statewide energy portfolio. Massachusetts is rich in private companies and universities excelling in technology development, and when combined with other major renewable energy projects currently under way, the state was poised to take a unique and leading role in moving this country towards true energy independence. It is therefore both ironic and mind boggling that the legislature should approach the biomass issue with a blind eye towards the permanent loss of scientific and technological advancement in emerging biomass science. Achievements, that if given the opportunity to flourish, could have had a significant impact not only on biomass technology, but all types of renewable energy generation, in both the near term and far into the future. We resign ourselves to the notion that regulations are a necessary evil in any industry, particularly where an expenditure of taxpayer money is a factor. We remain optimistic however that despite the blurred vision state government has regarding renewable energy that one day the climate in this state for biomass energy will change for the better. Meanwhile, the town of Russell will survive the loss of tax revenue, albeit at the expense of an increased burden on middle class tax-paying homeowners. Meanwhile, Russell First’s mission remains unchanged in providing support and fostering business growth for local companies, while providing financial assistance to organizations and individuals through fundraising activities. Russell Biomass may be dead, but a strong will to see the town thrive and prosper through new business and industry is alive and well and can be found in the supporters and active members of Russell First. Mike Carpenter Chairman Russell First Donald Blair Co-Chairman Russell First

  10. Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester. North Quabbin Forestry



    As a consulting forester in my own business in MA,I agree with Don Blair, it is disappointing that Russell Biomass will not be built. However, this will not affect my business. Markets for clean renewable biomass are booming in neighboring states. So the anti-forestry extremists may have won their battle here in MA, but they lost their war. MA is increasingly becoming a "wood basket" for other states as more chipwood and other forest products are exported. Unfortunately a lot of jobs were exported too but my landowner clients are very happy with the results of our improvement cuttings because strong biomass markets allow me to mark all the junk wood leaving a vibrant forest of high quality timber.

  11. Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester, North Quabbin Forestry



    A good example of the newer export markets will be the new 17 MW biomass plant being built by Concord Steam, Concord, NH which will be well within trucking distance for my operators in north central MA. As more biomass plants are built adjacent to MA, look for MA to become more of a "wood basket". In addition, exports to Europe will be increasing as the EU promotes more use of clean renewable biomass. So despite the small setback in MA, the future looks very bright for the biomass sector in MA.


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