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IN THE NEWS- Banging the Biofuel Drum
January 08, 2008

Banging the Biofuel Drum

By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff

 

Tuesday, January 08

LENOX — In an effort to propel Massachusetts to the forefront of the biofuel market, the state's Advanced Biofuels Task Force will host the first of several public hearings at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School on Monday from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

The task force was created by Gov. Deval L. Patrick, state Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, and the chairman is Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environmental affairs. State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, is one of three state senators on the 10-member committee.

"I'm happy to be chosen," Downing said yesterday from Boston. "I think the work we've done out here with Berkshire Biodiesel has alerted the governor that this is an area with a lot of promise."

He pointed out that, besides promoting clean energy, the potential is there to generate "green jobs" in that field that would stay in the Berkshires.

Berkshire Biodiesel is a local company that is planning construction of a $50 million biodiesel refinery in a vacant manufacturing plant on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

The plant, when completed, hopes to generate 50 million gallons of biodiesel annually. Two other plants are planned for Greenfield and Quincy.

At Monday's meeting, the task force will take testimony to help it determine potential recommendations for legislation, regulations and other programs that can promote the development of an advanced biofuels industry in the commonwealth.

Testimony may be presented orally or in writing, according to a press release. There also will be an opportunity to sign up for a three-minute presentation. Written comments may be handed to the committee both before and after the hearing. They also can be accepted until Jan. 31.

The state also is hosting a public hearing in Boston on Jan. 17, at the Statehouse, Room A-2, from 10 to 1 p.m. The committee is planning to schedule two more hearings at a later date.

Patrick, Murray and DiMasi all support a bill requiring the use of biodiesel fuel in all blends of transportation and heating fuels, beginning at 2 percent biodiesel in 2010 and increasing to 5 percent by 2013.

Were that legislation to pass, Massachusetts would become the first state in the country to require a minimum amount of bio-alternatives in all fuels. The bill also would provide a gas tax exemption for cellulosic ethanol, which is a type of biofuel produced from plant mass.

According to the sponsors of the bill, the biofuel industry could generate 3,000 jobs and about $320 million into the economy.

But beyond the economic impact is a desire by many state officials to reduce the state's dependence on petroleum. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts consumes about 4.5 billion gallons of petroleum per year, costing about $10 billion. This includes more than one-third of the homes in the state that heat with fuel oil, well above the national average of 8 percent.

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