The biomass debate in Massachusetts continued yesterday as the Department of Energy Resource (DOER) held the second of two public meetings on the Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study released June 10th by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Also known as the Manomet Study, the report was commissioned by the DOER in November 2009 and sought to develop sustainability guidelines for biomass energy policy pertaining to the state’s renewable portfolio standard. At the same time, the DOER suspended its qualification of biomass plants towards the renewable portfolio standard until the study was completed and final regulations were in place. When completed in June, the final study made some disconcerting conclusions – namely that biomass fired generation generally compared unfavorably over time with coal fired generation with respect to greenhouse-gas emissions.
The public hearing held on Wednesday July 28th in Holyoke, Massachusetts, sought to clarify the scope and broad policy implications for this study. The biomass community voiced concern over the study’s main assumptions on fuel source, which was limited to harvesting primary forest growth. A major fuel component for current and proposed New England biomass plants is residual forest waste, which could include anything from storm debris to trees taken from land cleared for development, and thus still falls under the category of ‘clean wood’.
Stakeholders also asserted at yesterday's meeting that biomass is a necessary step in meeting the state’s renewable portfolio standard goal of 15% by 2020. Currently, biomass makes up about 30% of eligible Class 1 supply, with the remainder largely sourced from wind and landfill gas. Even with last year’s Green Communities Act opening up Class 1 eligibility for low-impact hydroelectric power and fuel cells, biomass still remains an important part of current and future compliance.
Biomass eligibility had been revised previously in 2007, when the DOER released specific low-emission criteria for wood-fired and solid-fueled steam boilers. With the guidelines now under potential revision again, uncertainty still looms for the renewable resource.
The DOER stated in yesterday's meeting that the draft regulations pertaining to biomass will be distributed by early September, and is to be followed by another public stakeholder process. The final regulations are expected to be published by late October to November.