Russell Biomass Full Steam Ahead: Statement from Concerned Citizens of Russell

Jana Chicoine, Spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Russell, MA writes:

December 11, 2009 update from Concerned Citizens of Russell

Recent false media reports regarding the Manomet forest biomass sustainability study and Department of Energy Resources (DOER) suspension of biomass Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have led the public to believe that biomass power plants in Massachusetts are being meaningfully studied by the state and are “on hold” for a year, but a look at the progress of the Russell Biomass proposal shows that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Russell Biomass races full steam ahead is planning construction for 2010. They moved ahead last week with key assistance from a state government agency called the Department of Public Utilities (D.P.U.). The Department of Public Utilities, under Secretary of Energy and the Environment (EEA) Ian A. Bowles, has issued a final decision granting Russell Biomass exemption from local zoning restrictions on building height and setback. The decision is blindingly illegal because the Department has never conducted a proceeding dealing with only height and setback.

The proceeding that was conducted before the D.P.U. was for a full exemption of all aspects of the incinerator facility, so interveners chose to focus the bulk of the opposing testimony and evidence on traffic impacts. The Department has never issued a public notice that there is a proceeding dealing with only a height and setback exemption. This means that people living nearby have never had a chance to participate and submit focused evidence on how a state-ordered height and setback exemption would subject them to the daily nuisance and stress of this noisy, dusty, unsightly facility which would remain brightly lit all night.

Nor have they had a chance to submit evidence on the dangers such a height and setback exemption could subject them to. Russell Biomass would store huge amounts of wood chips, ammonia, and diesel fuel, which can combust or explode. Homeowners living near these facilities elsewhere have experienced a 20% drop in their property values, yet the Patrick administration thinks they can force this incinerator into this community without even pretending to comply with the law. EEA and D.P.U. have absolutely no statutory authority to approve a project without conducting a public proceeding on the impacts. Apparently they feel that complying with the law is just too much trouble when they want to get these incinerators built.

Russell Biomass also recently filed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). This is the final step in a long MEPA process in which hundreds of citizens have filed comments with the MEPA office, also under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles. The MEPA office has summarily ignored many detailed and expert comments on this project for four years now. The comment deadline for the SEIR is January 8, 2010.

Also ongoing in the town of Russell are local joint hearings of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board on five applications from Russell Biomass for Special Permits and Site Plan Reviews. Approval of these permits by the Zoning Board would activate the DPU zoning exemption for height and setback.

In response to a recent wetlands appeal on the Frog Hollow Road extension (also known as the alternate trucking route), Western Regional Department of Environmental Protection (WERO DEP) staff are also planning to visit Russell this coming week to make a preliminary review of the road. MA DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt, also under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles, controls air and water permits, as well as the Wetlands appeal process, for Russell Biomass.

Also this week, the attorneys of B&N Lands will depose the John and Jana Chicoine at the Law Offices of Green, Miles, Lipton & Fitz-Gibbon, LLP. The depositions are part of a land dispute lawsuit brought against the Chicoines by Russell Biomass developer Bill Hull of B&N Lands. Dated on Thanksgiving Day in 2006, the lawsuit is now entering its fourth year. The Chicoines have always maintained that it is a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) intended to stop them from exercising their right of free speech and their right to petition the government. They also feel that the state’s strong support for large-scale biomass power plants is a major factor enabling this years-long effort to drive their family out of their home and into bankruptcy. Bill Hull maintains that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the Chicoines’ work of five years leading the fight against Russell Biomass.

With this enormous show of force on all fronts, it would be very foolish to imagine that the Russell Biomass developers are worried about their Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). This week’s announcement that the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), is placing a one year moratorium on statements of qualification for Renewable Energy Credits is meaningless. The developers don’t need those credits any time soon. The DOER announcement could actually help the Russell Biomass developers by faking out the public and buying the developers just the amount of time they need to reach construction. The DOER is yet another agency under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles.

Developers from both Russell Biomass and Pioneer Renewable in Greenfield, are saying loudly and often how great the Manomet study is and they claim to already know the results. They say that it will “prove’ that their fuel supply is sustainable. They also crow about how sensible the DOER halt on RECs is. Having the developers publicly applaud these moves tells you all you need to know: it is an election year. The state is making empty political gestures meant to buy time and cool the public outcry. If the state was serious about dealing with the Biomass Frankenstein they have created, the developers wouldn’t be whistling Dixie, beating on innocent activist homeowners in the full light of day with an aggressive unwarranted lawsuit, receiving continual favors and advances from the state, and pouring millions of dollars into reaching construction before the light dawns on the voters.

Jana Chicoine, Spokesperson
(413) 454-1898

Public follow-up comments are welcomed. Please post in the comment box below.

Related Post:

  • Biomass Fuel Plants would require cutting 100,000 Acres of Massachusetts Forests Every Year
  • 2 Comments on “Russell Biomass Full Steam Ahead: Statement from Concerned Citizens of Russell

    1. Wood fueled biomass energy worse for carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuels

      Massachusetts Forest Watch released a report yesterday ( stating that contrary to the belief that wood fueled biomass burning would help lower carbon dioxide emissions, it would instead dramatically increase them.

      According to the group, wood fueled biomass burning is typically touted as a carbon neutral fuel by biomass proponents, but the key assumption about carbon neutrality is unsubstantiated and impossible when using existing forests as fuel.

      In the report, wood fueled biomass power plants are shown to be worse than all fossil fuel power plants, including coal, for carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced. Calculations provided show wood fueled biomass power plants emit about 50% more CO2 per MWh than existing coal plants, 150% more than existing natural gas plants and 330% more than new power plants.

      Forest Watch spokesperson Chris Matera said, “It really is crazy. Hundreds of millions of dollars in public so-called “green” energy subsidies are being wasted on dirty wood biomass burning of forests instead of going to genuinely clean energy sources such as solar, geothermal, appropriate wind and hydro and importantly conservation and efficiency. At a time when budgets are being slashed, we are throwing away scarce taxpayer money on a caveman technology that will worsen our problems, not help solve them.”

      Last Wednesday, a hearing was held in Boston by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on House Bill 4458 that would create into law the citizen’s referendum that recently collected over 78,000 certified signatures, which is enough to put the measure on the ballot in November. The ballot measure would put a limit on carbon dioxide emissions in order for renewable energy sources to be eligible to receive taxpayer subsidies and other benefits and would effectively ban taxpayer subsidies from being directed toward wood fueled biomass plants since their carbon dioxide emissions are so high.

      “We find that people are willing to support truly clean energy but do not want to pay extra on their electricity bills and tax bills to build these dirty biomass incinerators,” said Jana Chicoine of the Concerned Citizens of Russell, “Everyone knows that the proposed biomass incinerators would add to air pollution and make carbon emissions worse, yet the Patrick administration is still forcing us to pay for it. It’s a tragic situation, but we have a chance to fix it in the legislature over the next couple of weeks.”

      Meg Sheehan, chair of the Stop Spewing Carbon ballot question committee commenting about the hearing added, “last week the Massachusetts legislature received un-rebutted testimony from medical professionals that particulate emissions from wood burning biomass plants increase human mortality. A broad coalition of medical and citizen groups are urging our elected officials to support House Bill 4458 to address this public health threat. Action is needed now,” she added.

    2. Public Meeting Announcement

      Massachusetts Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy
      Thursday, December 17, 2009
      6:30 – 8:30 P.M.
      Holiday Inn
      245 Whiting Farms Road , Holyoke, MA
      (Off of I-91, just north of Mass Pike)


      The “sustainability” study is unfortunately just a political move to lull the public into thinking the State is doing something to slow down biomass proposals. Its scope and players are openly biased in favor of, and have vested interests in, wood fueled biomass burning. Also, if the State was sincere, it would stop permitting the wood burning biomass plants and would choose an objective body.

      Even if burning forests was “sustainable”, which it isn’t in the true sense of the word, that still wouldn’t make it a good idea. At a time of polluted skies, a carbon overloaded atmosphere and stressed forests, it is pure folly to force taxpayers to subsidize more cutting and burning of forests.

      The DCR forestry department will likely be out in force claiming that biomass burning is necessary for “forest health” and to “help” wildlife, so we need voices to come out and speak in defense of protecting forests for air and water quality, and wildlife habitat, recreation, aesthetics, economics and other values instead of burning them for at best 1% more energy.

      1. The study has been framed as “how much” to “sustainably” burn rather than examining the wisdom of increased cutting and burning forests.

      2. We already know that increasing logging and burning will negatively affect the forest, air quality, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, so we do not need to spend $100,000 taxpayer dollars studying this matter.

      3. The State is still handing out permits while the “sustainability” study is in process

      4. The study is being performed my folks with a vested interests in biomass burning and logging and questionable objectivity, see some of this background info below:

      A. All three consultants to the Manomet study, The Pinchot Institute ( , the Forest Guild ( and the Biomass Energy Resource Center ( ) and are proponents of wood burning biomass energy plants.

      B. Roger Milliken Jr. who chairs the advisory board of the Manomet Forest Conservation Program is the CEO of a commercial timber company with 100,000 acres of Maine timberlands ( ) and is the former chairman of the Maine Forest Products Council, the principle lobbying group for the timber industry in Maine .

      C. Manomet’s president, John Hagan, has written about the need for environmentalists to stop trying to “save the environment” and instead focus on “sustaining human well-being.”

      D. Tom Walker, who is the co-leader for the Manomet biomass study, and who has played a central role in drafting up the “forest futures vision” plan for the future management of our public forests, was a participant in the following pro-biomass “roundtable” on December 4

      Our first panel, Sustainable Forestry/Biomass and Energy in New England, explores how we can sustainably manage our forests while ramping up woody biomass production and harvesting for electricity generation, wood heat, and potentially even liquid fuels. With RGGI, state renewable portfolio standards, and eleven northeast states now considering a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) for both transportation and heating fuels, now is the time to determine the role our forests will play in satisfying important energy and environmental goals.

      David Cash , Assistant Secretary at MA EOEEA, will kick off the conversation. A representative of NESCAUM will then explain the contemplated LCFS concept and discuss the modeling work done to date on woody biomass. Tom Walker, a natural resource economist, will describe the study that his consulting team will be conducting for the Commonwealth on this topic . Jasen Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, will discuss how New Hampshire manages its forests while aggressively pursuing wood energy projects. Finally, a representative from Maine’s Forest Service has been invited to discuss how the state of Maine is approaching these issues.

      Massachusetts Forest Watch

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