Palmer Renewable Energy sues city over revoked special permit

By Lisa Gibson | June 28, 2011

The certified mail delivered to the home of Springfield, Mass., City Council member Kateri Walsh on June 24 alerted her to the very real lawsuit against the city, following the revocation of a special permit for a biomass facility. Developer Palmer Renewable Energy had warned of the legal retaliation it would take if its permit was revoked, but the city council still voted for revocaton in May, no matter the fact that the permit had been issued a full three years ago.

“Many people, I think, thought the lawsuit was an idle threat, which it has not turned out to be,” Walsh said. She was one of only two councilmembers on the 13-member body to vote against the revocation, saying she felt Palmer had done all that was required of it. She added that a special permit revocation is uncommon.

“I’ve been on the council since 1987, give or take a few years, and in that amount of time, I think we’ve only revoked three special permits,” she said. “So it’s a big step to take when you’ve granted the original authority to a business; the business does everything it’s supposed to do; the business has made a pretty big investment in the city of Springfield. It does provide jobs and I just have always felt that we didn’t meet the just cause standard for revoking the permit.”

Palmer had acquired all the permits it needed, she said, but the project became a controversial issue because of local opposition with health and air quality concerns. It was the most controversial issue the council had voted on this year, she added. “It can get very emotional when you’re talking about pitting people’s health against jobs.”

Palmer Renewable Energy is a partnership between Caletta Renewable Energy and Palmer Paving Corp., which owns the proposed project site. The 35-megawatt, wood-chip fueled Palmer Renewable Energy Center was scheduled for completion in July 2013. Vic Gatto, principal and chief operating officer of Caletta said the company will be issued its final air permit in the next few days, having already received a draft air permit, but declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. He added, though, that the company is still moving forward with its plans.

The lawsuit will almost definitely have an adverse impact on the city of Springfield, Walsh said. “Depending on the outcome of the case and the damages, it could have a very negative impact on the city of Springfield.”


8 Responses

  1. Jesse Sewell



    Mary, I appreciate your viewpoint, but this scenario is repeating itself ad nausium. We have a lawsuit in Wisconsin from the local school district essentially claiming that the 'School Superintendent' has a superior understanding of the health implications of a Biomass facility than do the State scientists assigned to assess the project and its impact on air quality. I urge people like this to continue holding out for the Rainbow Generator. The absurdity of opposing Biomass in favor of the status quo (imported coal) is quite interesting. Again, because it is considered less than perfect we should hold out for the Rainbow Generator. In general I insist on respecting everyones right to disagree, but in the majority of these cases it is sheer ideological obstinance that is preventing real progress both in terms of economic development, job creation and renewable energy.

  2. Nilly Willy



    Put the biomass plant in Brimfield where the president of PRE lives and there will be no problem. Let his children inhale his blessings.

  3. Nilly Willy



    Im sorry, West Brookfield is where the President lives. That's is beautiful county for a biomass plant. I'm sure his children would truly reap the respiratory blessings.

  4. Mary Booth



    Jesse, You might be interested to know that the reason the idea of a $50 million lawsuit was being floated around is that some people thought this was around the amount that Palmer Renewable Energy stands to lose in the free handout of stimulus money from your taxpayer dollars. You see, PRE wants to qualify for the 30% reimbursement grant of development costs from the government, which would amount to $46 million. So in fact, it’s PRE that’s living on “government cheese”… As for the permits being based on solid science, a basic familiarity with the documents behind this permit would show that’s obviously not true. If it were true, the permit would have been issued ages ago, but it’s been so riddled with problems, it’s been held up in the review process.

  5. Mary S. Booth



    Once again, shoddy reporting by this journal. You talked to the wrong city councilor. If Walsh had actually read the lawsuit, she’d be able to tell you that the suit is not for $50 million – in fact it does not name any specific figure, it simply asks for “costs”.

  6. Claudia Hurley



    Why doesn't your story mention the fact that the company submitted a notice of project change to the City of Springfield? Ten members of the Council voted to revoke the first permit because the project was changed substantially.

  7. michaelann bewsee



    Funny that Councilor Walsh assumes the city will be the loser in this lawsuit. How easily she gives up and how little faith she has in her fellow councilors, who heard dozens of health, scientific and legal opponents of biomass make the case for revocation before they made their decision. She is right, however, that “It can get very emotional when you’re talking about pitting people’s health against jobs.” This was the unnecessary choice that Palmer renewable Energy has offered to Springfield.

  8. Jesse Sewell



    It is interesting that an army of environmental scientists can issue permits for these projects based on solid science and yet every idiot in the County shows up at these council meetings to essentially argue that they understand the health implications more clearly and accurately. Words fail to describe how incredibly stupid this is, that years of analysis, public and private expense can be set aside because a school principal or a environmental 'organizer' gets up and weeps about the potential for one child to have a severe asthma attack. You people deserve to be jobless, living on Government cheese, in a van down by the river.


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