BPA comments on Mass. regulations

By Lisa Gibson | May 01, 2012

Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, said the BPA is extremely disappointed with the recently released Massachusetts regulations, which dictate parameters for the qualification of biomass under the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

“While we have no doubt that the Department of Energy Resources intended to protect the state’s and region’s forests with these rules, they are not based on sound science and, in reality, will have the opposite effect,” Cleaves said in a May 1 statement.

The Massachusetts DOER released its final proposed regulations April 27 with several changes from the draft released last year, including a 10 percent increase to the minimum efficiency standard. Now, a biomass plant must meet 50 percent efficiency before receiving half of a renewable energy credit (REC), and 60 percent for a full credit.

The regulation change, after decades of subsidizing biomass power, came swiftly after the infamous Manomet Study, which reported woody biomass releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than some fossil fuels. Despite several reports challenging the findings for numerous reasons, Massachusetts has continued with its goal of prompt policy change.

“As we have pointed out repeatedly, the Manomet study upon which these regulations are based did not explore the carbon accounting of energy using waste wood – the fuel used by the vast majority of biomass facilities,” Cleaves said. “More important, the use of waste wood by the biomass industry actually promotes forest health by removing the dead, rotting material. This allows new growth to replace it and, in the process, absorb more carbon. If forests remain at constant levels or increase, then the net effect is that carbon that is being removed is being reabsorbed, and indeed is better than ‘carbon neutral.’

“If the Massachusetts policy were applied nationally, almost 50 percent of the nation's renewable energy – the portion supplied by biomass – would be considered non-renewable,” he continued. “Without policy support, new plants wouldn't be built, and existing facilities would close. The result would be less investment in forests, which would mean less carbon being absorbed, more land use conversions, and more carbon in the atmosphere.”

The regulations have larger implications on the entire renewable energy industry, not just biomass, he added.

“If the true objective here is to reduce the use of fossil fuels in favor of homegrown, alternative energy sources – thereby reducing the carbon in our atmosphere – then Massachusetts is making a grave error," Cleaves said.