Massachusetts disqualifies biomass power from renewable subsidies

Biomass power is far from green.

New biomass regulations from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources disqualify stand-alone biomass power facilities from receiving the US equivalent of the subsidies called Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) that UK biomass power plants are eligible for. Combined heat and power biomass facilities with an efficiency of at least 50 per cent are still eligible for the subsidies.

The new Massachusetts regulations come in response to widespread public opposition to biomass incinerators, and to a study that showed that biomass power generation is not carbon neutral.

Not everyone in Massuchusetts is happy that the regulations still allow subsidies for combined heat and power biomass facilities, since wood burning stoves typically achieve 60 per cent efficiency and many opponents of the new regulations believe that trees should not be cut down and used in such an inefficient manner.

Similar questions about whether biomass power facilities should really be considered as renewable energy sources are being raised in Europe too, and in the UK.

A report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth points out that UK government plans to burn biomass for electricity generation are likely to create more carbon emissions than burning coal for electricity generation does. And leaked Coalition government Cabinet papers show that funding for carbon capture and storage development projects has been cut from £1bn to £200m – nowhere near enough to bring this technology to a commercially viable, proven state.

Updated 15 Jan 2013 with info about the report Dirtier than coal? Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet and cuts to CCS funding.

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