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Russell Biomass Plant Cancelled: The Start of an Industry Trend?

On the heels of the recent biomass regulations imposed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the 50-MW Russell Biomass plant, which has been in the works since 2005, has been terminated.

“We are disappointed, we believed there was a benefit from the project, but we simply cannot meet the requirements of new state regulations on such projects,” said Peter Bos, Russell Biomass, LLC project developer, in an article published last Friday.

DOER finalized restrictions in August that require all woody biomass plants to generate power at a minimum 50 percent efficiency in order to receive one half of a renewable energy credit (REC), and 60 percent efficiency to receive one full REC, up from the previous 25 percent efficiency standard. The restrictions also include regular Forest Impact Assessments, which are used ensure preservation by determining the biomass industry’s influence on the environment, and power plants much achieve a 50 percent reduction in lifecycle emissions over 20 years.

The Russell project had been in a holding pattern since 2009, when Massachusetts imposed a moratorium on biomass development while it determined regulations. In that time, the State received results from the controversial 2010 Manomet Center for Conversion Sciences study that determined burning biomass creates more carbon debt and releases more CO2 than some fossil fuels. Some industry analysts have since heavily opposed and debated the results of the study. 

Although the restrictions allow plants a one-half REC at 40 percent efficiency if they are proven to be instrumental in the advancement of biomass technology, Bos says that it is simply unrealistic. “We tried to look at different options, but they are just not there,” Bos told The Republican.

In a letter to the Board of Selectmen, Russell Biomass partner William Hull noted that although the project has already received most of its permitting, the new regulations rendered the project to be technically unfeasible and uneconomical, and it would be unable to meet the 50 percent efficiency mandate.

Many in the industry fear that the Massachusetts regulations will become a national standard and drastically affect the industry, with the Russell plant becoming just one of many casualties. If these standards were applied nationally, noted Biomass Power Association CEO Bob Cleaves, almost 50 percent of the biomass power plants in operation would be considered non-renewable. But Massachusetts state representatives are standing their ground on the decision.

“The company made a business decision to not move forward with this project,” said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. during an announcement. “Regulations do not prevent biomass, but the state will not subsidize biomass if it is not efficient.”

Lead image: Cancelled board via Shutterstock

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