Massachusetts adds thermal provision to state APS

By Erin Voegele | September 17, 2014

In August, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that adds renewable thermal energy as a component of the state’s alternative portfolio standard (APS). The measure is set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

According to the text of the bill, the new law expands the definition of an “alternative energy generating source” to include “any facility that generates useful thermal energy using sunlight, biomass, biogas, including renewable natural gas that is introduced into the natural gas distribution system, liquid biofuel or naturally occurring temperature differences in ground, air or water,” with 1-MW hour of alternative energy credit being earned for each 3.412 million Btu of net useful thermal energy produced and verified through an on-site utility grade meter or other approved means. The newly signed bill also includes a provision that specifies that facilities using biomass fuel must be low emission, use efficient energy conversion technologies and fuel that is produced by means of sustainable forest practices. In addition, construction and demolition debris, including but not limited to chemically treated wood, are not considered alternative energy supplies.    

The legislation also indicates emission performance standards will be set, including standards for eligible biomass, biogas and liquid biofuel technologies that limit eligibility to best-in-class commercially-feasible technologies. This includes energy conversion and emissions controls with regard to reducing particulate matter sized 2.5 microns or less and carbon monoxide and other pollutants. In addition, these technologies are also subject to a requirement that they achieve a 50 percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to a high-efficiency unit utilizing the fuel that is being displaced. For a new load, the reduction much be achieved relative to a high-efficiency natural gas unit if natural gas is available at the site at reasonable cost. Otherwise the reduction must be achieved relative to the fuel that is most likely to be utilized. Additional provisions also apply.

In early August, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council issued a statement praising the bill, noting Massachusetts has joined New Hampshire as the only states that have authorized the inclusion of renewable thermal in comprehensive renewable portfolio standards.

“The passage of the renewable thermal bill will provide important financial incentives to people who choose to make the responsible choice of heating or cooling their home or business with renewable technologies such as solar heating, geothermal and air source heat pumps, and bio-fuels such as wood pellets, wood chips, renewable bio-oils, or renewable natural gas,” said Charlie Niebling, chair of the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition, in a statement.

“Inclusion in the Massachusetts APS validates today’s clean and efficient renewable thermal technologies and their contributions to energy security and decreased emissions,” said BTEC Executive Director Joseph Seymour.  “BTEC would like to thank all those who worked tirelessly on this important piece of legislation, and we look forward to sharing the Massachusetts’ coalition model with other states interested in promoting cost-effective, comprehensive energy policy.”

BTEC noted that regulatory language must be written and released for public comment before a final rule is enacted. Additional information on the bill is available on the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition website