Mass. biopower plant gets draft air approval

By Lisa Gibson | March 22, 2011

A 35-megawatt biomass power plant proposed for Springfield, Mass., has received its draft conditional air permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, as it moves forward in the development process.

Upon its completion, scheduled for July of 2013, the $150 million plant will consume about 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, according to Vic Gatto, principal and chief operating officer of developer Caletta Renewable Energy. Caletta has teamed up with Palmer Paving Corp., which owns the proposed facility site, to form Palmer Renewable Energy. Construction is expected to begin in July of this year, pending final permit approvals.

In Massachusetts’ permitting process, the state first issues a draft permit that is followed by a 30-day comment period consisting of public hearings, Gatto explained. If all goes well, the state will issue the final permit after the public comment period. “We definitely are feeling good about it,” Gatto said.

Caletta is one of a few developers in Massachusetts that are feeling the pinch from intense and well-organized opposition groups loudly condemning biomass power. The state Department of Energy Resources is currently working on its final version of state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) regulations, already almost three months overdue. It too has felt the push from opposition groups fighting for the exclusion of biomass power from RPS qualifying facilities, and several biopower developers in the state say they aren’t sure what the final version will stipulate.

If passed as initially drafted, the RPS regulations would require biomass power plants to achieve between 40 and 70 percent efficiency and 50 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction relative to life-cycle emissions from a combined-cycle natural gas facility using the most efficient technology. Not only would those standards be nearly impossible to meet without substantial investments, but it would thwart development of new plants, costing hundreds of jobs in an already struggling economy.

But despite the monkey wrenches thrown into the biomass power industry’s progress in Massachusetts, Gatto said he expects Palmer Renewable Energy’s facility to continue moving forward as planned.