As reported here, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources recently proposed new rules (pdf) regulating large wood-burning power plants. These rules call for stringent efficiency standards, notably the encouragement of co-generation (the productive use of waste heat). The impetus for the new rules was a recent study that challenged the widely-held assumption that the cultivation of forests for fuel stock absorbs as much greenhouse gas (GHG) as the wood-burning plants produce – in effect canceling out the GHG emissions generated by incinerating the wood. The prevailing thought was that the new rules would derail large wood-burning power plants currently proposed in Russell, Greenfield and Springfield because those plants lacked plans to use their waste heat and would no longer qualify for lucrative renewable energy credits.
At least for the Springfield plant, rumors of its demise were premature. The Department of Environmental Protection recently issued an air quality permit for the $150 million, 35-megawatt plant. While the issuance of the air permit – the last of several required state approvals – is a significant step forward, other obstacles remain. Opponents have 21 days to appeal the air permit, and the City of Springfield recently revoked a special permit it had issued for the plant, an action that’s prompted a lawsuit by the developer. Whether the Springfield plant can surmount these obstacles and get built is being watched with keen interest at the local, state and national levels.