By James Kwak
I’ve already introduced you to the Springfield biomass plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE). The issue in that post was PRE’s witnesses’ apparent unfamiliarity with the voluminous evidence that ambient air pollution increases both the incidence and the severity of asthma, along with other diseases.
In addition, PRE is claiming that their biomass plant won’t increase air pollution, anyway. In this press release gracefully repackaged as a news story by the Springfield Republican, we read, “The average annual impact on emissions such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter would be minuscule, Valberg and Raczynski [PRE's environmental consultants] said.”
Wow. Power plants have only a minuscule impact on emissions? In 2005, electricity generation was responsible for 73 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 21 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions, and 11 percent of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions. And biomass plants are less efficient, per BTU, than plants that burn coal or natural gas.
Well, maybe this power plant won’t have a lot of emissions. At least, that’s what you would think on reading the draft conditional approval granted to the plant by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. According to that report, the proposed plant will emit less than fifty tons per year of nitrogen oxides and less than 100 tons per year of carbon monoxide, making it a “non-major source” of air pollution.
But if you read that report carefully, what you find is that the estimates of future emissions come from the developer’s own application. For example, see PDF pages 17-18 on nitrogen oxides, which read like marketing literature for the “high efficiency regenerative selective catalytic reduction system” that is the centerpiece of the argument for low emissions. This is like approving new drugs without clinical trials.
What’s perhaps more disturbing is that the Springfield plant was classified as a major source (which triggers additional review under 310 C.M.R. 7.00 Appendix) after its initial application — and the introduction of new technology magically changed it into a non-major source. So the lesson is: if you don’t get it right on your first try, keep trying until you do. Because no one is checking.