Tuesday June 8, 2010

Like too many ballot initiatives in Massachusetts over the years, the proposed November referendum targeting biomass plants is a narrow special interest effort that could have statewide repercussions, including in Berkshire County. Also too typical of today's political climate, the effort resorts to scare tactics rather than facts in making its case to the public.

Opposition to a proposed wood-burning biomass plant in Russell is the genesis for the referendum campaign orchestrated by a group based in Cambridge. Having failed to persuade the Legislature to ban the plants, the group wants to establish emission restrictions so unrealistic that no biomass plant could reach them, choking off the state subsidies crucial to the financing of their construction. In opposing the ballot initiative, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy observed that if approved "this overly broad initiative petition would prevent the development of many forms of renewable energy by cutting off their access to essential incentives."

Overwrought opponents conjure nightmare images of state forests clear-cut into oblivion to feed biomass plants even though such behavior would result in the plants putting themselves out of business. This also fails to take into consideration the strict regulations already in place to protect forests and regulate biomass plants. These plants would also play a role in reducing our dependence on truly dangerous energy sources like coal and oil, which cause destruction in their extraction and pollution in their burning.


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If approved, and signatures are still being collected to put the referendum question on the ballot, two local projects, one a biofuel plant planned to provide energy for Crane & Company, the other an effort to grow algae rich in oil to fuel all the power needs of a local farm, could be hamstrung. These are exactly the kind of responsible environmental projects that should be encouraged, not discouraged. They reduce dependence on fuel sources from outside the region, provide local jobs and ideally could put the Berkshires on the cutting edge of development of new sources of renewable energy.

Groups that oppose alternative energy sources like wind and biomass are doing the work of the coal companies and oil giants so much in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. NIMBY-motivated special interest ballot initiatives like this one threaten to hinder the pursuit of alternative energy sources and crimp Berkshire efforts to take a leading role in the pursuit of those sources.