PROVIDENCE –– A small group of environmentalists gathered outside the Statehouse Tuesday to voice their opposition to a bill that would incentivize biomass power in the state of Rhode Island.
H8020, proposed in the House by Rep. Kenneth Marshall, would add biomass power, the burning of wood and organic matter, to the state’s 2011 net metering law. Net metering allows those generating power to sell their renewable energy to the power grid for distribution. Under the new law, renewable energy developers would be offered the same incentives for biomass as they would with wind and solar power.
Green Development, a renewable energy company based in North Kingstown with wind turbines in Coventry, has been looking into building a biomass power plant, burning hundreds of thousands of tons of wood coming from the central landfill. Green Development Spokesman Bill Fischer has said that without adding biomass to net metering, the plan will not be economically feasible.
Officials with the Environment Council of Rhode Island said Tuesday that the organization, a coalition of 62 small, medium and large environmental groups throughout the state, is opposed to the bill.
“Environmentalists oppose this biomass bill because burning biomass can release more carbon, more particulates into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels,” said Jerry Elmer, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation and outgoing president of the environment council.
Meg Kerr, Senior Director of Policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and incoming ECRI president, said her organization has a long history of opposition to waste incineration and waste-to-energy facilities, and their stance on H8020 remains the same.
“We oppose them because of the air pollution they cause,” said Kerr. “We know that wood burning would increase carbon dioxide emissions, making this policy inconsistent with our Resilient Rhode Island Act, which sets goals for reducing green house gas emissions in the state.”
Kerr called the bill “a bad policy choice for the state.”
“We’re concerned about using contaminated waste as an energy source when really the best practice is to reuse it and recycle it, not to burn it,” she said. “Audubon has made a clear position that we’re committed to a rapid transition to renewable energy for the state. This is not the renewal energy of choice that we want.”
John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island, an organization focused on open, ethical and accountable government, said H8020 is more than an environmental issue.
“It’s also about how public policy is being made in the state of Rhode Island,” he said. “Common Cause cares deeply that policies are made in the public interest and not in the private interest.”
Marion said the legislation “was introduced at the behest of a single developer who will profit by adding biomass to the list of sources available for net metering, a program established to promote green technologies.”
“Yet those who know best about this technology are united in their opposition to it because it will pollute rather than help our environment,” he said. “Our legislature is being asked to weigh the public interest against the economic interest of a single developer.”
He said he wants the public to know legislators face a choice — to advocate for public or private interests.
New England Clean Energy Advocate James McCaffrey said his organization tracks clean energy and biomass issues throughout the world. He said there is an “intent by the biomass industry worldwide to infiltrate our clean energy policies, to tout false science and talk about how burning forests or burning trees or wood is clean energy, when it really is not because clean energy does not in any form ever come out of a smokestack, and that’s what we have happening here.”
McCaffrey said biomass is more polluting than coal and fossil fuels like natural gas.
“Rhode Island has already made a serious error by incentivizing biomass through its renewable energy portfolio standard, which led to more than half of Rhode Island’s energy coming from polluting forms of biomass from around the region in 2015,” he said. “We feel that the Rhode Island legislature is being somewhat duped here by the false science and by a developer who has a specific interest in building a facility here that will actually make Rhode Island residents sick.”
Rep. Aaron Regunberg voiced his own opposition to the bill.
“This biomass incineration legislation is not in the interest of our climate, our environment, or our ratepayers,” he said. “It uses the Trump administration’s logic to justify the kind of special interest backroom deals that Rhode Islanders are so fed up with.”
He said biomass was explicitly excluded from the 2011 net metering law he actually wrote. Last year he sponsored an expansion to the net metering program that allows schools, churches and other nonprofits to buy into community clean energy projects.
On May 15 the House Corporations Committee voted to recommend the passage of the bill, but it has not yet been placed on the House calendar for a floor vote.
Follow Kendra Port on Twitter @kendrarport