Massachusetts Policy Troubling for Renewable Energy Development

By Bob Cleaves | May 23, 2011

Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources made official a policy that was long in the making—the effective “delisting” of biomass electricity as a qualifying technology under that state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). By imposing efficiency standards that are technologically and financially unachievable, Massachusetts has become the only state in the nation—and perhaps unique in the world—in deciding that biomass is not a form of renewable energy.

As an industry, we advocated that such a policy has no basis in science, is bad for rural New England, deprives the region of “baseload” sources of renewable energy, and shows a profound misunderstanding of the type of fuels that we use to create energy. But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the proposed rule is the message it sends to developers and investors.

To appreciate the breadth of the problem in Massachusetts, we need to revisit the past 10 years or so. When the state adopted an RPS, the state agency—DOER—engaged in an exhaustive rule-making process among all stakeholders to determine what type of biomass would qualify for the RPS. Keep in mind that the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Certificate program was, and remains, one of the more aggressive programs in the nation, which translated into significant benefits for owners and operators of renewable energy technology that qualified under the program, including biomass. 

Upon the adoption of these rules, a number of facilities in the region made significant investments. A coal plant was converted, boilers were retrofitted to the tune of millions of dollars, and qualifying facilities were sold to investors—all on the belief that Massachusetts had arrived at a policy that could be relied upon, at least for a predictable period of time, so investments would be recouped.

Enter Stop Spewing Carbon, a small vocal minority dedicated to stopping a number of new biomass facilities in western Massachusetts. They convinced the state to take another look at biomass, claiming that new biomass would cause deforestation. We all know the end of the story—the resulting study (the so-called Manomet [Center for Conservation Sciences] report), analyzed (using flawed methodology) the carbon impacts of harvesting natural forests for energy (not what we do), and the media (in error) concluded that biomass was “worse than coal.” That was all Gov. Deval Patrick needed to hear to declare, “off with their heads.” And in one stroke of the regulatory pen, woody biomass was disqualified.

Never mind the fact that by displacing biomass, Massachusetts has inadvertently become the largest supporter of baseload coal and natural gas, or that the state’s own study had nothing to do with using forestry residues and byproducts. Investors and developers in all renewable energy sources should be concerned about the underlying message this sends: Come to Massachusetts and invest in our renewable markets, but we can and will change the rules of the game, and we don’t care if you lose your investment based on later policies we enact. We can and will change the rules, regardless of your reasonable expectations based on our representations.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association


8 Responses

  1. Medford



    Ppl like you get all the brains. I just get to say thnaks for he answer.

  2. Bill Silva



    to get a sense of the immense hypocrisy of the critics of biomass, just read:

  3. Mary S. Booth



    Mr. Cleaves has misrepresented what happened in Massachusetts. What actually happened was that the state commissioned the Manomet Study, and resolved to make policy based on its outcome, before the Stop Spewing Carbon campaign was ever initiated. People in MA know the true chronology of events and Mr. Cleave’s efforts to misrepresent what happened only serve to weaken his argument. Massachusetts has no interest in incentivizing a “renewable” energy technology that emits more CO2 than coal. Further, Mr. Cleaves would realize, if he had actually read the policy, that it does allow “logging residues” as fuel – and grants full renewable energy credits to facilities that demonstrate lifecycle carbon emissions less than natural gas. Isn’t this a reasonable thing to ask of our renewable energy – that the technologies release less lifecycle carbon than the fossil fuels they are replacing? The actual regs are here: See for yourself whether Mr. Cleaves is representing the situation correctly (he’s not!)

  4. Glen Ayers



    If you read this closely you will see that it is all about "developers and investors" which is code for risking other people's money in a get-rich-quick scheme for milking "green-energy" incentives and subsidies. This is all about ripping off the system, defrauding the public, and green-washing these incinerators in disguise. Dirty Biomass Incinerators, like those proposed in Russell, Greenfield, and Springfield, are not and never will be green. You can't put enough green lipstick on that putrid pig. And it is not just those crazies in Mass, this is a world-wide movement to stop incinerators posing as renewable, green energy. By the way, the Springfield City Council just voted to stop the Callahan Incinerator by a vote of 10 - 2. Biomass is dead! Wake up and smell the unburnt forest.

  5. Ruth Apter



    Thank you to the Mass Dept of Energy Resources for using logic!

  6. Josh Schlossberg



    I know you are emotional right now, Mr. Cleaves, but this isn't helping your cause any. The Manomet study aside, the CO2 impacts from burning any form of tree parts is common sense (several studies have come out since saying the same thing). Climate and forest scientists have been calling attention to this issue for years. In fact, all you need is an 8th grade Earth Science course to understand the issue. The truth was bound to come out eventually. While public pressure was indeed part of the process, to suggest that all of a sudden government is cowering in fear of "environmentalists" is ridiculous. That has yet to happen in our nation. Ever. Government only protects the environment when it's clear there is no other choice. They bent over backwards for you for years until they realized your industry was so dirty, they couldn't sully their own tarnished reputations by backing it anymore. Instead of blaming the "vocal minority,"--also known as concerned taxpaying citizens--please try to accept the fact that big biomass is such an inefficient process that government TOOK IT UPON ITSELF to limit its use. Or at least limit milking taxpayers to line the pockets of developers. 2 inaccurate statements you make (of many) are: 1. Manomet only accounts for logging of "natural forests." Untrue, it also accounts for "residue." 2. "The biomass industry doesn't log trees to burn." I have walked in the forest with Bill Kropelin, chief forester for McNeil biomass incinerator, and he told me that they do log trees that would otherwise not be logged or be used for other things. Oh, and pretty much every other piece of information out there from biomass facilities points to this as well. I have been reading the wind and solar industry blogs and they have been crowing about the fact that Massachusetts now will be encouraging more wind and solar in the place of big biomass. That's the future of clean energy in the state and that's where the jobs and economic boon will come from. Maybe you can reinvent your career as a solar or wind advocate?

  7. Jock Gill



    It strikes me that the meta argument against burning biomass in power plants is NOT about CO2 emissions but rather that 2/3s of the energy content of the fuel - ANY fuel - is discarded as waste heat. This argues strongly for replacing the centralized generation paradigm with a decentralized paradigm. Then we can discuss not only fuel types, but, much more interestingly, combustion vs pyrolysis. In the end, I predict that distributed, carbon negative, pyrolysis will displace centralized carbon positive combustion. This is the question we should be addressing.

  8. Gary Elliott



    The Manonmet Study (which I have read in its entirity) is flawed, both from the sience and from the engineering perspectives. There is very good science in hundreds of peer reviewed papers written over the last 30 years that have arrived at a diferent conclusion - that waste wood fueled biomass energy is (at least) carbon neutral versus any other means of disposal. The means of disposal include leaving it where it lays, Taking the waste wood to a dump or land fill (even a land fill that recovers the methane produced), open burning, composting or even using the waste wood to make pellets, torrified wood, pyrolysis gases, or other fuel sources. In other words, the very best environmental impact from waste wood has been scientifically and conclusively proven to be using it directly for the production of energy. Scientists and engineers at a number of respected Massachusetts instutions such as MIT and Harvard, to name just two, who are familiar with the data, would agree. Decisions made using flawed information are likely to be flawed. In this case, Massachusetts residents will suffer both from higher emissions from uncontroled emissions from waste biomass and from additional emission from fossil power plants that produce power that would have been produced from waste wood.


    Leave a Reply

    Biomass Magazine encourages encourages civil conversation and debate. However, we reserve the right to delete comments for reasons including but not limited to: any type of attack, injurious statements, profanity, business solicitations or other advertising.

    Comments are closed