Sunday, June 21, 2009

Many good reasons to oppose biomass proposal for Springfield

On Tuesday, June 16, I and my sister Liz, Arise's Economic Justice organizer, went to a public forum by the Springfield Area Sustainable Energy Association (SASEA) on the problems with a biomass plant proposed for Springfield by Palmer Paving. Only 30 people or so attended the forum at Western New England College, and only a few were actually from Springfield, MA-- but still, just possibly enough to form a core organizing group in opposition to the plant.

Actually, five biomass plants are in various planning stages in Western Mass.-- Fitchburg (really more Central MA), Pittsfield, Greenfield, Russell and Springfield. I knew that considerable organizing has been going on in Russell organized by Concerned Citizens of Russell, and the night before, 500 people had shown up for a public hearing about Greenfield's plant.

My poor city, however, is full of poor people, not farmers and environmentalists. Most people's attention is focused on how to meet basic needs like paying rent and utilities. Trying to figure out how can we build opposition here is why I went to the forum.

What I learned is that the biomass proposal is far worse than I could have imagined.

What follows is my first attempt to pull together some of the key facts about the Western MA proposals, in particular, the Springfield plant. Being unfamiliar with the funding mechanisms for biomass, and the extent of the political maneuvering, some facts in the first bullet are sketchy. I'm hoping to strengthen all sections as I get feedback and more information. If you have facts to add, strengthen or correct, please let me know.


  1. We don’t need these biomass plants. All five plants will provide only 1.2% of Massachusett’s power.
  2. Dollars spent on conservation and winterization would reduce our need for electricity, save consumers money and provide a lot more jobs
  3. Homes near biomass plants ultimately lose about 20% of their property value.
  4. Biomass plants and proposals are sucking up more than 79% of the Renewable Energy credits dedicated for green industry (and it’s NOT green—see below). (Also not clear if this is on a state or federal level.)
  5. The Springfield plant wouldn’t even be economically feasible to open and run if it were not for the $60 million in stimulus funds the owners will receive as soon as it’s open.
  6. Western Mass advocates went to Washington, D.C. this Spring armed with information to oppose the promotion of biomass as green energy only to find out that the biomass industry had spent more than $80 million in the first quarter of the year to promote biomass. (Need to hear more of this story, which was told by Williamstown attorney and biomass opponent Margaret Sheehan.)


  1. Biomass is NOT carbon-neutral: it takes 5 minutes to cut a tree and 70 years to grow a full-grown one!
  2. Biomass plants will be allowed to clear-cut Massachusetts forests and will triple the logging rate.
  3. Biomass is nearly as dirty as coal but somehow is considered “Green” energy!
  4. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass plants are exempt from regulations.
  5. Just the three plants in Springfield, Russell and Greenfield will increase greenhouse gasses by nearly 8% more than 2007.
  6. Biomass plants use a huge amount of water - , 0ver 800,000 gallons a day on peak days.
  7. There has been no environmental impact study done on the Springfield plant! (not sure about Russell and Greenfield.)
  8. The Springfield plant will be allowed to burn up to 75% “construction and demolition”” product (see below).


  1. The Springfield plant is expected to add 4.3 tons of lead to the atmosphere, an increase of 71% over what is released today. (Still looking for info on the presence of lead in people’s bodies right now.)
  2. Construction and Demolition product includes asbestos, wood with lead paint, wood treated with many other heavy metal compounds, and produces dioxin, the 2nd most dangerous chemical in the world, linked to cancer, birth defects and many other health problems.
  3. The state asthma rate for children continues to climb and is now at 10% but the Springfield rate is more than 16%! People with other breathing difficulties such as CODP are bound to suffer more.
  4. Even though Massachusetts banned incineration plants 19 years ago, biomass releases as much Fine Particulate Matter as coal. FPM has no known safe level and is detrimental to breathing!
  5. The plants also release chemicals which produce ground-level ozone, also hazardous to breathing
  6. Woodpiles at the plants can also create stubborn fires which can smoulder for long periods. An Athens, ME biomass fire forced schoolchildren indoors at recess for more than six weeks.
So that's the story as I know it so far. The public forum helped me to identify some key allies but there are so many more organizations and people that need to be involved, including health centers, neighborhood councils and our elected officials, who so far, seem only interested in the amount of tax revenue that Palmer Paving will add to the city's coffers.

The Springfield plant is very far along in the permit process with, I believe, only one hearing left to happen. We've got our work cut out for us.

Photo: clearcutting at the Savoy State forest. See the Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre for more chilling photos and information.


AdamH said...

Do you know when/where the next hearing is?

D.O. said...

We continue to cover this issue on The Enviro Show on WXOJ-LP and webstreaming at Valley Free Radio. Show info here:

Jana Chicone will be on the show Tuesday, July 7th 6:30 - 7:30 to talk about the BIOMESS!