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Massachusetts Puts the Brakes on Burning Construction Debris for Power Generation

Energy Secretary Bowles Announces Moratorium on Permits for Controversial Biomass Plants

December 11, 2009



Michaelann Bewsee, ARISE,  



Mary Booth, Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance



Springfield, MA – In a decision that is drawing praise from environmental scientists and citizen groups, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will suspend review of all permit applications for facilities that were proposing to burn construction and demolition waste to produce electric power, pending completion of a study to assess the health and environmental effects of the practice. Two controversial projects that had planned use of biomass will be put on hold pending completion of the study. The 120 megawatt Somerset coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts has proposed to replace coal with demolition waste as fuel, and the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy Plant in Springfield, MA, would burn about 700 tons of the demolition waste daily, along with 200 tons of forest wood, to generate 38 megawatts of electricity.  Last week, the DEP also announced it would require a health effects study to be conducted in the Springfield region where the proposed Palmer plant would be located.


For months, community groups and scientific experts have expressed their concerns to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary, Ian Bowles, over the Somerset and Palmer facilities since the material to be burned includes pressure-treated and painted wood that contains arsenic, chromium, lead, and other contaminants. “We commend Secretary Bowles for taking bold action to ensure the risks associated with demolition debris burning are completely assessed,” said Mary Booth, an environmental scientist and founder of the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance (MEEA). “As we move into a new era of renewable energy, it’s important to ensure that new energy sources don’t create more problems than they solve.  All of our research suggests that biomass is no better than fossil fuels either in terms of public health or greenhouse gas production.”


Michaelann Bewsee, director of Arise in Springfield, a local group that has been opposing construction of the Springfield plant, stated, “This is a huge step in the right direction. We hope Massachusetts residents will watch the progress of the environmental effects and health studies closely, and stay involved.”  


The medical community has also formally expressed concern about biomass as an alternative energy; this week the Massachusetts Medical Society passed a resolution opposing biomass burning for energy on the grounds that air pollution impacts from the plants presents an unacceptable risk to the public’s health.