Massachusetts Tightens Rules on Biomass Plants; Other States Could Follow

Date: August 17, 2012

Source: News Room

Massachusetts has finalized rules that are expected to disqualify many wood-fired power plants from receiving renewable energy credits, which are seen as increasingly imperative for their economic viability amid low natural gas prices and the slow economy. The move by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources could set the stage for other states. The final standards require all woody biomass plants to generate power at minimum of 50 percent efficiency to receive one half of a renewable energy credit (REC), and 60 percent efficiency to receive one full REC. Previously plants were required to operate at 25 percent efficiency. The new rules seek to ensure that biomass plants produce less net greenhouse gas than plants that burn fossil fuels. The long-debated rules are a setback for the biomass-power industry, which relies on federal and state subsidies and beneficial power-purchasing rules to operate profitably, according to the Biomass Power Association.

The new standards were influenced by the 2010 Manomet Center for Conversion Sciences study, published in June 2010, which concluded that biomass energy is not carbon neutral, does not reduce greenhouse gasses, and releases more CO2 for every kilowatt of energy produced than some fossil fuels. The biomass industry contests these findings and argues that burning biomass is essentially "carbon neutral" because plants absorb the same amount of CO2 while growing as is released when burned.

See also: "Massachusetts Plans Restrictions on Energy from Biomass," (, September 20, 2010.

August 17, 2012

Patrick-Murray Administration Announces Enactment of Biomass Regulations

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) today adopted the final Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Class I regulations, implementing changes to biomass energy eligibility.

"Massachusetts is a leader in addressing the issues of biomass energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and the implementation of these regulations is on the forefront of national and international renewable energy and climate policy," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan.

The adoption of the final regulations comes after more than two years of evaluation, public input, and careful consideration of how best to utilize woody biomass resources for energy in a manner consistent with the Commonwealth's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect forests.

The enactment of the regulation now ends the moratorium on the qualification of woody biomass for the RPS Class I that DOER imposed in December 2009.

A draft of the regulation was filed in May 2011 and was the subject of two public hearings, a written public comment period and comments from the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Based on those comments, DOER officials had incorporated a number of changes to the draft regulations in April. Officials then offered the regulation again for a 30-day public comment period between May 19 and June 18, 2012, after which the final regulation was prepared and filed for promulgation.

"The adoption of this revised regulation and guidelines demonstrates the Patrick-Murray Administration's commitment to advancing the Commonwealth's clean energy goals and greenhouse gas reduction commitments based on sound science and prudent policy," said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia. "Through this regulation and other initiatives, DOER believes there is a role for biomass energy in the Commonwealth focused on high efficiency use of the limited sustainable wood resource."

The RPS program requires all retail electricity suppliers in the Commonwealth to obtain a minimum percentage of their supply from eligible renewable energy generation sources. After passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in 2008, which requires the Commonwealth to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions across the economy 80 percent by 2050, DOER hired Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to study the long-term greenhouse gas implications of utilizing biomass for electrical energy generation.

"I am pleased that once again Massachusetts has taken the lead in the nation by developing powerful, science-based standards in accordance with the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act," said Senator Marc R. Pacheco, Chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

DOER began this regulatory process with the goal of incorporating greenhouse gas emissions requirements consistent with the GWSA as part of eligibility for the RPS. The final regulations establish the following:

  • Define eligible woody biomass fuels, including classifications as either residues or thinned trees, while ensuring sustainable forest resources, and protecting habitats and ecological functions. The determination of volume of harvest residues that must be retained on a harvest site is based on soil productivity.

  • Require all woody biomass units to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 20 years as compared to a combined cycle natural gas unit.

  • Establish an electronic certificate registry to track and verify eligible biomass fuel supplies and differentiate between wood derived from residues and forest thinnings.

  • Mandate a minimum operating efficiency, inclusive of electric and thermal outputs, of 50 percent to receive one half of a renewable energy credit (REC) with the ability to receive a full REC at an efficiency of 60 percent.

  • Create a special category of biomass units deemed to be advancing the technology that will be eligible for half-RECs at an efficiency of 40 percent.

  • Require a Forest Impact Assessment every five years to review program implementation and any impacts on forests and markets as well as an Advisory Panel to review tracking and enforcement mechanisms.

The final regulation, guidelines, and other documentation and information are available on the RPS Biomass Policy Regulatory Process web page.

On Monday, August 20, 2012, DOER officials will announce the process to be followed for the treatment of biomass under the RPS Class II program, which supports pre-1998 renewable energy generation.


June 19, 2012

53 Biomass Supporters Join BPA in Urging Massachusetts DOER to Reconsider Biomass Rule

  • Signees Include Scientists, Facility Operators, Fuel Suppliers;

  • Letter Cites "Profound Negative" Effects of Rule and Encourages Science- Based Approach

Washington, DC - June 19, 2012 - In response to a ruling by Massachusetts' Department of Energy Resources (DOER), Biomass Power Association yesterday submitted a letter - signed by 53 scientists, businesses and individuals who support biomass - to the agency, urging a reconsideration of its decision.

"The diversity of signees to this letter speaks volumes," said Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. "Science shows that biomass, when done right, reduces greenhouse gases when compared to the use of fossil fuels. From all over the country, scientists, environmental experts, companies and individuals involved in all aspects of biomass lent their voices to support this cause. The Massachusetts ruling will hurt our industry and it will promote the use of fossil fuels. We urge DOER to reconsider its stance on biomass."

The ruling effectively disqualifies the industry from being able to participate in the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard. This will endanger current biomass facilities, and all but prevent the construction of new facilities, jeopardizing one of Massachusetts' most efficient, clean and reliable sources of renewable energy.

The letter reads, in part: "If Massachusetts enacts the Draft Rule in its current form, it will be the only government we know of anywhere in the world to effectively deem biomass electricity a non-qualifying resource."

Yesterday marked the final day of the DOER comment period on the ruling. The agency will review comments before issuing a final regulation.

The full text of the letter appears below, along with a list of signatories.

Biomass power is a $1 billion industry with 80 facilities in 20 states and provides over 15,500 jobs nationwide. Power plants are predominately located in rural communities, creating thousands of jobs and producing millions in revenue for small towns. Biomass power is a clean and abundant source of electricity that will allow states to pursue even more aggressive goals for increasing their use of renewable energy in the future.


Massachusetts DOER
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 1020
Boston, Massachusetts 02114

Dear Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources:

We, the undersigned, are stakeholders in the nation's forest resources. We appreciate the opportunity to provide the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with our comments on proposed changes to 225 CMR 14.00 et al (hereafter "Draft Rule"). This Draft Rule is detrimental to the interests of Massachusetts forest and related economies, and is contrary to worldwide efforts to mitigate global warming.

Currently, biomass provides more than 30% of the Nation's non-hydroelectric renewable energy supply. In Massachusetts, like many states across the country, biomass is an important source of baseload renewable power. Virtually every State and Territory that has a Renewable Portfolio Standard considers biomass as "renewable" and its carbon benefits are recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Information Agency, the California Air Resources Board, and the European Union.

If Massachusetts enacts the Draft Rule in its current form, it will be the only government we know of anywhere in the world to effectively deem biomass electricity a non-qualifying resource. This will have profound negative effects on the rural economies of New England. It will also eliminate low value wood markets, thus removing the economic benefits of preserving forests as carbon sinks and hastening their permanent loss from the natural landscape.

We endorse an accounting framework that is (1) fully transparent, (2) science based, and (3) treats all forms of renewable energy fairly. We also endorse the use of feedstocks that are sustainably sourced. From a carbon perspective, that means carbon stocks should not be depleted in the name of renewable electricity; to the contrary, our goal is to ensure that the biomass electricity sector is able to fully utilize "low value" biomass -- fiber that would otherwise be discarded -- thereby creating a market for such material that will properly incentivize the continued use of the land as forests. The Draft Rule, if enacted, represents a threat to the ecological health of the entire region and a setback in encouraging alternative, indigenous forms of energy.

We urge the Department to reconsider the Draft.

Bob Cleaves
President & CEO
Biomass Power Association

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