Wood-Burning Biomass Bill Put on Hold

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The controversial biomass bill appears to be dead after Gov. Gina Raimondo recently promised to veto it.

"She hears the concerns of the environmental community and does not support the bill,” said Raimondo’s press secretary, Josh Block.

Those concerns focus on air pollution and a fear that allowing a wood-burning energy facility would make it easier for a trash-burning incinerator to be built. Local environmental groups have long opposed so called waste-to-energy facilities because of the health and environmental effects caused by their emissions.

“This is not clean: burning always emits carbon and other pollution,” said Amy Moses, Rhode Island director at the Conservation Law Foundation.

Rep. Kenneth Marshall, D-Bristol, said he shares those concerns and is willing to amend his bill, H8020, so that it prohibits trash incineration.

Marshall said a vocal minority has otherwise derailed legislation that benefits the entire state.

“It seems to have taken a life of of its own with the people against it,” he said. “They made it appear it was a bad thing.”

Science and research, however, have proven that burning wood scrap and junk lumber speeds up the release of carbon dioxide, compared to wood that decomposes naturally. The practice also emits high levels of particulate matter that contribute to air pollution.

Marshall promised that a woody biomass power plant would only burn clean wood that is otherwise buried in the Central Landfill in Johnston. Keeping it out of the waste stream extends the operation of the state’s only landfill and save cities and towns money by reducing their disposal costs, known as tipping fees, he said.

Woody biomass power plants can be built in Rhode Island provided they meet emission standards. But Marshall’s bill allows them to qualify for net metering, a form of compensation for electricity that is granted to renewable-energy systems such as wind and solar installations.

Currently, Rhode Island buys woody biomass energy from power plants in Maine and New Hampshire through the Renewable Energy Standard program.

If Rhode Island doesn't allow for new waste management solutions, than the state will pay steeper prices to ship trash elsewhere, according to Marshall.

“Were going to be at the mercy of out-of-states haulers,” he said.

Marshall also claimed that it’s hypocritical that incinerators aren’t built in Rhode Island while Massachusetts operates seven. “Why is it that we allow another state to benefit from it and we all breathe the same air?”

For now, neither the House bill or the Senate bill have been withdrawn. But according to Statehouse press officials, “advocates” for the legislation are no longer seeking passage this year.

The Senate passed its bill May 2 and sent the bill to the House Corporations committee for a hearing. The House bill was approved by the House Corporations committee on May 15.

Although it’s unlikely the bills will advance, Marshall is optimistic that they will move forward next year. He said it’s likely that the election in November has made the governor and other politicians hesitant to pass controversial bills.

“Especially in an election year, the governor got skittish,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately an election will do that to some people.”