Battle over biomass subsidies at state hearing
- Aug 9, 2017 3:52 am GMT
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It’s a local, plentiful energy source, but environmentalists argue that biomass - wood chips or pellets - can’t be considered clean energy and shouldn’t be subsidized by the state as such.
More than 70 people gathered at
The proposal would provide subsidies for “woody biomass” - in other words, the burning of wood chips or pellets in wood boilers. As part of a 2014 law backed by the logging industry, the state has included biomass boilers in its “Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard,” along with geothermal, solar thermal and other technologies.
State officials have said the inclusion of biomass is intended to provide an energy alternative to fossil fuels in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Proponents of the rules say that when combined with sustainable forestry practices, biomass can be a renewable energy source that can compete with fossil fuels.
Environmentalists, however, cite research that shows biomass can produce more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. They have also raised concerns over the pollution created when burning biomass, and say the state’s proposed financial incentives may lead to the clear-cutting of forests.
“The commonwealth should not be allocating public funds for wood-burning, which benefits a few in the forest industry,”
Sinclair was one of dozens of protesters who showed up to the hearing carrying signs with slogans like, “Biomass? No thanks!” as well as a large, mock asthma inhaler. Hers was one of more than a dozen groups to submit critical comments on the draft regulations, along with the
“It’s simply not clean energy — the health impacts are already clear and continue to mount,”
Those health hazards arise predominantly from the “fine particulate emissions” that result from wood burning.
“It’s now been confirmed that the small particulates go directly into the brain, and particulate pollution of the size created by wood burning has been linked to poor cognitive function, the acceleration of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Masino said.
Those particulates can also affect the heart and lungs, leading to serious health effects and triggering asthma attacks, according to the EPA.
Opponents of biomass fuel asserted at the hearing that burning wood wouldn’t help to reduce the state’s greenhouse emissions. A state-commissioned 2010 study by the
Several citizens and environmentalists who stood to speak also contended that providing incentives for wood burning could lead to deforestation. Markets needed
The public comments were far from dominated by environmentalists, however. Many — tree-farming landowners, foresters and the biomass heating industry among others — expressed support for the new regulations.
“Many landowners — me among them — need to be able to produce periodic income from their woods in order to afford continued ownership of the land,” said
“To do that, there need to be markets for the great variety of species and grades of wood that come from our natural, mixed-species, self-regenerating forests.”
Several proponents of the state’s proposed rules made similar arguments on Monday, advocating for help keeping a market alive for low-value wood or for forest waste.
Others argued that biomass is a cheap, local source of energy that can be renewable if forests are well maintained. Trees and plants trap carbon dioxide when they grow, and some advocates said more trees are currently being grown than cut in the state.
But for environmentalists in the room, allowing biomass to be eligible for clean-energy subsidies is a step in the wrong direction as climate disaster looms large. They said the state should focus its financial incentives on proven green energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energies.
“We cannot take a step backwards now and allow burning to harm our citizenry,” he said Monday to applause. “I do not understand why you consider burning in any form to be safe, except perhaps because you are being strongly pressured by companies who would profit from it.”