A nearly 15-year-battle over plans to build a wood-burning power plant in Springfield has entered a new stage.
The owner of a proposed biomass facility in Springfield is suing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for revoking the project's air quality permit and asking a judge to reinstate the license.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in Suffolk Superior Court this week, the Palmer Renewable Energy company said the state exceeded its statutory authority and acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner when it rescinded the permit.
Neither the project's developer nor lawyers for the Palmer Renewable Energy company could be reached for comment, but the company said in the lawsuit it stands to lose the $11 million its already invested in the project if it can't build the power plant.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection originally issued an air quality permit for the biomass facility in 2012. But in 2021, it revoked it, citing construction delays and new concerns about how the project would exacerbate existing health disparities in Springfield. A state board upheld that decision in November. The state declined comment on this latest lawsuit.
If constructed, the Palmer facility would burn about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day and be the state’s only large-scale biomass plant. Though the plant would use state-of-the-art technology to trap air emissions, critics say the facility would still release harmful and climate-warming pollutants into the air.
The location of the project — in a lower income community with high rates of asthma — also helped fuel opposition to the project. When the state canceled the permit last year, some local advocates and residents cheered the news. Tanisha Arena, executive director of the nonprofit Arise for Social Justice, told told WBUR at the time: “Residents of Springfield can literally breathe a sigh of relief.”
In addition to the fight over the permit, the project's developer could face other obstacles. A state climate law passed this summer made it impossible for any new biomass power plants to qualify for renewable energy credits, eliminating a potential source of income for the Springfield facility.