Tuesday, August 14, 2012

State Sovereignty: Mass. Banks on Sun and Wind over Biomass

Last month we discussed New Hampshire’s bold move to grant biomass projects the same incentives as other sources of renewable energy. This month we look at a neighboring state moving in the opposite direction.

Governor Patrick signs Senate Bill 2395. Courtesy: Eric
Haynes/Governor's Office. 
On Aug. 3rd, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed Senate Bill 2395, enacting new energy legislation that has been in the works for nine months. The new law increases incentives for developing wind, solar and hydro projects and “includes provisions that aim to manage some of the drivers of energy cost increases.” (Mintz)

Utility companies will now be required to purchase seven percent of its power supply from renewable sources, up from three percent previously. Additionally, the law mandates long-term contracts of at least 10 years, which will help with project financing for renewable technologies. 

The move comes after the Bay State suspended consideration of all biomass energy applications on Dec. 3, 2011. Biomass had been a sizeable portion of the state’s renewable energy supply, reaching 49% in 2007. Massachusetts announced plans to begin its “RPS solar carve-out on Jan. 1” and many felt the Aug. 3rd signing into law was long overdue. The new legislation also establishes a clearinghouse auction for surplus SRECs until the state meets its 400 MW solar target. Massachussetts’ goal is to have 15% of its energy supply come from renewable sources by 2015, with two GW of it coming from wind.

Biomass escaped having some limiting regulations that were proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) included in the final text, but the message is clear: biomass project developers should move over state lines to New Hampshire.

We can certainly understand Massachusetts legislators’ thought process: solar and wind produces zero emissions; it’s clearly the greenest way to go. So why not spend our money on the cleanest technology out there?

Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press. 
We support wind and solar as viable alternatives to landfilling but believe it is only part of the solution. Both solar and wind are intermittent power sources while biomass is a baseload power source. Additionally, wind and solar are still more expensive than biomass (excluding subsidies) and the cost of transmission lines from the oftentimes remote locations to more urban areas is not usually factored in. The proposed Cape Cod wind farm, which would consist of a series of turbines in a 25-square mile area in the shallow part of the sound, comes with a $2 billion price tag. While producing 468 MW of energy would be an impressive feat for the country’s first wind farm, it would only provide approximately 3.5% of the 13,300 MW used in Massachusetts.

We support the growth of other renewable source industries but hate to see it come at the price of excluding biomass projects. As the world continues to work to find the right combination of renewable sources to keep the light on, we think any legislation that excludes an entire section of industry does a great disservice.

The good news for Bay State biomass developers? New Hampshire is right next door.

Further Reading:

United States: New Massachusetts Law Boosts Wind and Solar Energy – By David L. O’Connor, Jeffrey J. McCourt, Amarynth Sichel and James Sasso, Power Engineering (Aug. 6, 2012).

Renewable Power & Energy Efficiency Market: Renewable Portfolio Standards – By Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (May 3, 2011).

Cape Cod Wind Farm Tiptoes Ahead By Jennifer Levitz, The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 11, 2012). 

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