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Massachusetts enacts biomass regulations

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) adopted the final Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Class I regulations, implementing changes to biomass energy eligibility.

The adoption of the final regulations comes after more than two years of evaluation, public input and careful consideration of how best to utilize woody biomass resources for energy in a manner consistent with the Commonwealth’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect forests.

The enactment of the regulation now ends the moratorium on the qualification of woody biomass for the RPS Class I that DOER imposed in December 2009.

A draft of the regulation was filed in May 2011 and was the subject of two public hearings, a written public comment period and comments from the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Based on those comments, DOER officials had incorporated a number of changes to the draft regulations in April. Officials then offered the regulation again for a 30 day public comment period between May 19 and June 18, 2012, after which the final regulation was prepared and filed for promulgation.

The RPS program requires all retail electricity suppliers in the Commonwealth to obtain a minimum percentage of their supply from eligible renewable energy generation sources. After passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, which requires the Commonwealth to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions across the economy 80 percent by 2050, DOER hired Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to study the long-term greenhouse gas implications of utilizing biomass for electrical energy generation.

DOER began this regulatory process with the goal of incorporating greenhouse gas emissions requirements consistent with the GWSA as part of eligibility for the RPS. The final regulations establish the following:

  • Define eligible woody biomass fuels, including classifications as either residues or thinned trees, while ensuring sustainable forest resources, and protecting habitats and ecological functions. The determination of volume of harvest residues that must be retained on a harvest site is based on soil productivity.
  • Require all woody biomass units to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 20 years as compared to a combined cycle natural gas unit.
  • Establish an electronic certificate registry to track and verify eligible biomass fuel supplies and differentiate between wood derived from residues and forest thinnings.
  • Mandate a minimum operating efficiency, inclusive of electric and thermal outputs, of 50 percent to receive one half of a renewable energy credit (REC) with the ability to receive a full REC at an efficiency of 60 percent.
  • Create a special category of biomass units deemed to be advancing the technology that will be eligible for half-RECs at an efficiency of 40 percent.
  • Require a Forest Impact Assessment every five years to review program implementation and any impacts on forests and markets as well as an Advisory Panel to review tracking and enforcement.