I’m Josh Schlossberg, communications coordinator for Biomass Accountability Project, a national organization based in Massachusetts and Vermont, a volunteer for Biofuelwatch, an international organization, and editor of Biomass Busters newsletter.
A little background: Born in New York State, Hudson River Valley. After graduating high school, came to Green Mountain College in Poultney for a year and then on to Marlboro College, where I graduated in 2000 with a B.A. in writing. I did special education work and substitute teaching in public schools for the next three years. Then went out to Oregon to work for forest advocacy groups, became journalist and editor for the Forest Voice environmental journal and got my graduate certification in nonprofit management. I returned to Vermont in the summer of 2009 and live in East Montpelier., where I am a forest commissioner for the town of East Montpelier, overseeing a 93 acre working town forest, volunteer for Food Works,and on the steering committee for Transition Town Montpelier, one of hundreds of towns across the world working to adapt their communities to peak oil, climate change, natural resource depletion and economic instability
I am not an expert, nor do I play one on tv. I am a freelance advocacy journalist, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and editor of a monthly online and print newsletter tracking biomass power incineration across the country, Biomass Busters, and I’ve have been following the issue of forest biomass incineration on a national scale closely since 2005. I am convinced biomass power incineration is a real potential threat to public health, climate stability, healthy forests and watersheds and our genuinely clean renewable energy future.
Tonight I’ll be giving a 45 minute presentation on the overall issue of forest biomass power incineration for electricity, focusing on the impacts on human health, climate and forests. At the end of the talk I’m hoping to open things up to discussion. I’d be happy to answer any questions if I am able, but more interested in having a discussion than a Q & A session.
I’m here just to provide what I think is the best science and information out there on the topic, in hopes that Vermonters can make the best-informed decision in our transition to a clean energy future.
Right now are two large scale electricity generating biomass proposals by Beaver Wood Energy in Fair Haven and Pownal, which would require almost 600,000 green tons of wood chips per year. Group called Bennington Berkshire Citizens Coalition, benningtonberkshirecc.org is organizing against this.
And no, I don’t personally oppose the burning of firewood for home heating. I heat my house with responsibly harvested wood. While burning wood for heating isn’t by any stretch of the imagination “green,” it is certainly much more efficient—and essential—than the burning of trees for electricity. Heating is 75-90% efficient while electricity is 20-25% percent. Those in favor of wood heating, either on the home, industrial or district level, should be aware of what competition for wood sourcing with large scale electric, really means.
First of all, I’d like to discuss terminology. Have you ever wondered how an industrial burner got named a plant? One takes away life. The other IS life.
The dictionary definition of the word “incinerate” is “to burn or reduce to ashes;”, so I think it’s more accurate to call these biomass facilities biomass power incinerators.
Some of the strongest voices in the fight against biomass incineration are are not those of environmentalists, but members of the health community. Unlike other renewable energy sources such as solar or wind, biomass incineration requires a smokestack. One prestigious organization of medical professionals after another disagrees with the idea that “clean” energy can come out of a smokestack.
The American Lung Association opposes the construction of new biomass incinerators.
The Massachusetts Medical Society has the same opinion.
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition isn’t happy either.
Here’s some quotes from doctors. Dr. William Sammons, board certified pediatrician from Massachusetts, has been traveling around the US talking to citizens and decisionmakers about the negative health impacts of biomass incineration..
Same thing with Asthma specialist, Dr. Ron Saff, from Florida.
Here’ a chart of some of the toxic pollutants and their potential health impacts that are emitted from McNeil biomass incinerator.
The website PlanetHazard.com tracks the top ten polluters in every state getting its data from the 2002 Environmental Protection Agency National Emission Inventory Database
The McNeil biomass incinerator in Burlington is Vermont’s top polluter. Vermont’s other biomass incinerator, Ryegate comes it at # 4. Here’s a long list of all of the pollutants put out by the McNeil incinerator and their pounds per year.
One of the most harmful pollutants of biomass incineration is particulate matter. Multiple studies insist that there are no safe levels of exposure to particulates. (American Cancer Society studies)
According to the EPA…
“Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including: increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease”
PM 2.5, in particular, Get deep into your lungs, into the bloodstream, into your organs.
Levels of PM 2.5 in Vermont, notice Windham county is high.
A study published in the Health Physics Society’s Newsletter [Vol. 18, No. 4] in 1991 by scientist Stewart Farber concluded that wood ash “is a major source of radioactivity released into the environment,” based on the presence of radioactive Cesium-137 (Cs-137) in New England wood ash samples.
“Cs-137 was created and dispersed worldwide in the environment primarily from the open air testing of atomic bombs,” in the US and Russia, according to Farber.
Sixteen scientists collecting 47 data sets in 14 states concluded that with the exception of California, wood ash with cesium exceeded—some by 100 times or more—the levels of radioactive cesium legally released from nuclear reactors. “Both manmade and natural radioactivity will be present in both the stack releases and in the ash.”
***From: Science News: The Weekly NewsmagazineA Science Service PublicationVolume 140, No.6, August 10. 1991
“Biomass Ash has varying levels of toxic metals depending on the fuel source and area the fuel was grown. The primary concerns are the levels of cadmium, mercury, and lead.” Bernard Windham chemical engineer from Tallahassee, FL.
The problem is, however, that besides nutrients, the ash also contains heavy metals. Cadmium poses a special risk to the use of wood ash in agriculture. It pollutes a large fraction of the ash generated in a biomass combustion plant [From waste to raw material—the route from biomass to wood ash for cadmium and other heavy metals; Institute for Chemical Engineering, Graz University of Technology, Inffeldgasse 25, A-8010, Graz, Austria accepted 21 February 1996.]
“The difference in tree ring mercury content associated with geographic orientation of the disks indicates that daily exposure to sunlight as well as temperature may affect mercury uptake, and that the mercury observed in the tree rings must be deposited from the atmosphere onto the tree surface.” [Mercury concentration in tree rings of black spruce (Picea mariana Mill. B.S.P.) in boreal Quebec, Canada Li Zhang, Jun-Long Qian and Dolors Planas] 1993]
“Forests act as mercury traps because mercury in the atmosphere—which comes from both natural and human-generated sources such as coal-fired power plants and municipal waste incinerators—collects on foliage. When the foliage dies, it falls to the forest floor and decomposes, and the mercury enters the soil. “[Fires Fuel Mercury Emissions, University Of Michigan Study Finds ScienceDaily (Jan. 10, 2007)]
*** From waste to raw material—the route from biomass to wood ash for cadmium and other heavy metals; M. Narodoslawsky and I. Obernberger Institute for Chemical Engineering, Graz University of Technology, Inffeldgasse 25, A-8010, Graz, Austria accepted 21 February 1996.
*** Abstract Energetic utilization of biomass is considered an environmentally safe way of providing energy, especially for process heat and district- heating purposes. The main advantage of energy from biomass is the CO2-neutrality of this energy-production process. However, this process produces a solid by-products, namely ash, that has to be considered. This ash contains nutrients like calcium, potassium and phosphorus that should be recycled to forest or agricultural soils, thus closing not only the carbon cycle but also the fluxes of mineral materials caused by these technologies. The problem is, however, that besides nutrients, the ash also contains heavy metals. Cadmium poses a special risk to the use of wood ash in agriculture. It pollutes a large fraction of the ash generated in a biomass combustion plant, namely the cyclone fly-ash and, to an even higher degree, the filter fly-ash or (where flue gas condensation is installed) the condensation sludge. A medium-term solution to the recycling of solid residues from biomass combustion is blending cyclone fly-ash and bottom ash and using the mixture in agriculture. Although a large part of nutrients might be recycled in this manner, care has to be taken of the relatively high amount of cadmium in this material. A new technology currently under development takes advantage of the different temperatures in a biomass combustion plant. This technology enables concentration of cadmium (and other volatile heavy metals) in a very small portion of the whole ash flux from a plant and the concentrations of environmentally relevant substances in the remainder of the ash is kept low. In this manner, wood ash from the process industry or district heating systems might be transformed from waste to raw material for agricultural use.
Ash with significant levels of toxic metals must be treated as toxic waste.
If properly disposed, wood ash from industrial burners would cost $30 billion a year.
Biomass incinerator ash is dumped on farmers fields as fertilizer. According to phone conversation with Farber on October 13, 2010 ash is not tested for heavy metals or cesium.
Also used for road construction, potentially leaching off into watersheds during rains.
Aside from the smokestack air pollution, biomass incinerators have had other issues associated with it. A report was put out by Vermont Law Center in 2000 called “The Impacts of McNeil Station,” referring to the 50 megawatt biomass incinerator at the edge of downtown Burlington. Over its 26 years of operation, there have been numerous complaints by citizens…
“Over the life of the McNeil station, the [Riverside] Residents’ primary concerns have been with disturbing noise and vibrations, pungent odors, fugitive dust emissions, and nauseating stack emissions generated by the station.”
There have been pungent odors. The wood chip piles started fermenting after awhile.
The fermenting wood chip piles have caught fire in the past.
A quote from the report…
“On the last day of the September 1985 fire at McNeil Station, McNeil operators ordered the breach of a berm, releasing countless gallons of concentrated wood chip leachate into the…groundwater supply. The leachate contained phenol, furfural and furfural derivatives, which are all products of wood chip fermentation.
“The EPA has classified phenol as a priority pollutant and furfural and formaldehyde as toxic pollutants.”
“Noise and vibrations complaints were prevalent. Mechanical vibrators used to dislodge woodchips from train boxcars caused the noise and vibrations.”
McNeil avoided truck traffic by using trains. So for the incinerator in Pownal, substitute the train noise with the noise of almost 100 trucks a day.
Dust also escaped the facility and got onto people’s laundry hanging outside, into cars, in through open windows and even into kids ears, according to one resident.
Ok, so we’ve gotten into some heavy stuff here, so let’s just take a deep breath before moving on…
Which leads us into…
Forests are the lungs of the Earth.
Forests provide us with many free ecosystem services, such producing clean air, filtering clean drinking water, creating fertile topsoil, providing erosion and flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, regulating regional climate and rainfall, and storing and sequestering carbon dioxide—acting as our most powerful buffer against climate change.
Studies have demonstrated that if we assigned a monetary value to these free forest benefits, it would measure in the trillions. But of course, because these services are free, we don’t factor them into the accounting when we log.
But if we were to do a true cost, or full cost accounting, comparing the short term profits from logging receipts vs. the life-giving benefits forests provide, we’d be treating our forests a lot differently than we are now.
Forests are the piece so often ignored when a biomass incinerator is proposed…
No one is saying we should never log our forests. But it’s dangerous to pretend that somehow logging a forest benefits the living ecosystem. Because it doesn’t. There’s ways to do it less bad, or to speed up individual tree growth, but a healthy forest isn’t about how fast the trees grow, but also the soils, watershed, fish and wildlife. We should be using the best forestry practices available for necessary wood products, but we have to be honest that while we may be living lighter on the land, we’re not doing the forest ecosystem any favors.
Books like Jared Diamond’s Collapse document that an early warning sign of a civilization declining—such as Easter Island up there—is deforesting it’s landbase. We have already logged more than 95% of our nation’s native forests.
In 2006 in Oregon I organized a conference called “Clearcutting the Climate,” where we brought together climate and forest scientists to present on the topic of forests and climate change. The take home message was that logging disrupts the climate, that the best climate buffer we have on the planet is our living forests and one of the most important (and easiest) steps we can take to protect our climate is to protect as much living forest as possible.
“Oct. 15, 2010 - The USDA Forest Service today released new estimates of the total carbon storage of U.S. forests, highlighting the important role America's forests play in the fight against climate change. “According to the new data, 41.4 billion metric tons of carbon is currently stored in the nation's forests, and due to both increases in the total area of forest land and increases in the carbon stored per acre, an additional 192 million metric tons of carbon are sequestered each year. The additional carbon sequestered annually offsets roughly 11 percent of the country's industrial greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of removing almost 135 million passenger vehicles from the nation's highways.”
When logging is necessary, we must make sure it’s done in the least impactful way possible.
You might’ve heard of the “Biomass Sustainability and carbon Policy Study,” put out by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Massachusetts, also referred to as The Manomet Study. The study was commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources after citizen groups in Massachusetts became concerned about 5 new biomass power incinerators proposed for their state.
The results of the study have rocked the biomass industry in not just Massachusetts and New England, but the entire nation and to some extent, even the world.
Key findings included exactly what anti-biomass advocates had already discovered: that over the time frame meaningful to addressing climate change, logging and burning forests for electricity is not only not carbon neutral, but emits more CO2 than even coal—one of the planet’s worst polluters—and much more CO2 than natural gas.
Many in the biomass industry have been publicly downplaying the study, but the science is clear: biomass puts out more greenhouse gases than coal and far more than natural gas, which provides most of the electricity in the Northeast.
The very fact that a supposedly “clean and green” energy source could even be in the same ballpark as coal, should be enough to require a great deal of scrutiny by the general public and decisionmakers.
Dr. Mary S. Booth conducted a review of the Manomet study for the Clean Air Task Force. Her findings state that even the Manomet study results are optimistic, that the true CO2 emissions numbers of biomass are even worse:
“The Manomet study has underestimated the net carbon emissions of biomass power, and policy-makers should be extremely cautious about accepting the study’s optimistic conclusions concerning the point in time when biomass can start providing a carbon dividend.”
Until recently, the biomass industry, as well as politicians, media and even environmental groups have been calling biomass incineration “carbon neutral.” However recent science—and basic common sense—debunks this myth.
“Exempting emissions from bio-energy use is improper for greenhouse gas regulations. Replacing fossil fuels with bio-energy does not by itself reduce carbon emissions, because the CO2 released by tail-pipes and smokestacks is roughly the same per unit of energy regardless of the source.”
“Harvesting existing forests for electricity adds net carbon to the air. That remains true even if limited harvest rates leave the carbon stocks of regrowing forests unchanged, because those stocks would otherwise increase and contribute to the terrestrial carbon sink.”
Above is data collected from an Environmental Protection Agency database and a permit application comparing the emissions of a proposed biomass incinerator in Russell, Massachusetts with an existing coal plant.
Chris Matera, civil engineer and organizer of Massachusetts Forest Watch compiled this data.
The numbers are pounds per megawatt hour…showing that a brand new biomass incinerator puts out far greater CO2 emissions than a 1960’s coal burner.
Data for PM, VOCs, and CO for Mount Tom were taken from an EPA database from 2005 (most recent data available on that site). MWhrs of operation fro 2005 were taken from Clean Air Markets site.
Figures from Chris Matera, Massachusetts Forest Watch.
Data for Mt Tom on NOx, SOx, and CO2 taken from Clean Air Markets site, and are current for 2008.
Russell air pollution data are from their air permit application, for 8760 hours of operation, and 50 MW of output.
*Russell CO2 quantity of 1732 tons per day is taken from the Russell Environmental Notification form and uses the corresponding output of 380.000 MWh
Data from Chris Matera taken from Department of Energy.
WOOD-FUELED BIOMASS POWER PLANTS AND CO2 EMISSIONS
Biomass is typically touted as a carbon neutral fuel and burning biomass is sold as “green” energy. The key assumption about carbon neutrality is unsubstantiated and impossible, yet is still repeated by biomass proponents. In fact, wood fueled biomass power plants are worse than coal for carbon dioxide emissions.
Russell Biomass in Massachusetts is one such proposed facility. The project proponents estimate in their expanded environmental notification form that the plant will emit 1,732 tons per day of carbon dioxide to produce 380,000 MWh of power annually, an emission rate of 3,327 lbs/MWh1. For comparison carbon dioxide emission rates are 2,117 lbs/MWh for existing coal plants, 1,314 lbs/MWh for existing gas plants and 760 lbs/MWh for new power plants.2 The Russell plant would emit 50% - 250% more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than the top ten worst carbon dioxide emitting power plants in the northeast.3
Overall, wood fueled biomass power plants emit about 50% more CO2 per MWh than existing coal plants, 150% more than existing natural gas plants and 330% more than new power plants.4
WOOD FUELED BIOMASS vs FOSSIL FUEL POWER PLANTS Source: Department of Energy and Footnotes 1 & 2
RUSSELL BIOMASS vs WORST NORTHEASTERN POWER PLANTS Source: MassPIRG “More Heat than Light” and footnote 1 Even the often touted idea of converting existing fossil fuel heating systems or CHP systems to wood fueled biomass increases carbon dioxide emissions by 26% over oil and 74% over gas given similar efficiencies.5 Since wood burners are usually less efficient, actual carbon emission increases would be even higher.
While beyond the scope of this briefing, additional carbon impacts from wood fueled biomass power plants must be added since the forest’s ability to sequester carbon has been reduced through logging. A full accounting of carbon dioxide impacts from wood fueled biomass power plants would also include carbon emissions from the decay of forest root systems, oxidation of soil organic material as well as the use petroleum for logging of forests, chipping the wood, and hauling a large quantity of relatively small fuel loads at distances up to 100 miles or more in trucks that get about 5 miles per gallon.
It is impossible for a biomass power plant that burns existing forests to be carbon neutral since any increase in forest cutting negatively affects the current baseline condition of forest growth versus cutting and mortality. Furthermore, it is the overall carbon emission input rate into the atmosphere from an energy source that matters, because overall carbon sequestration rates can not be expected to increase to make up for increased carbon inputs. With biomass burning of existing trees, the overall sequestration rate may even decrease because of the impacts on the forest, creating a double whammy.
1 Tighe & Bond. 2005. Expanded Environmental Notification Form, Russell Biomass Project, September 2005. p. 3, 12 1732 tons CO2 per day x 365 = 632,180 CO2 tons per year, 380,000 MWh per year, 632,000 x 2000 lbs/ton /380,000 = 3,327 lbs of CO2 per MWh
Back check: 380,000/365 days / 24 hours / 50 MW x 100% = 86.7% uptime 1 MW Requires 13,000 green tons at 45% moisture content and 90% up time, see page 11: http://www.mass.gov/Eoeea/docs/doer/renewables/biomass/bio-08-02-28-wmass-assess.pdf 50 MW x 13,000 green tons (at 90% up time) x 86.7 % / 90% x 1.01 tons carbon per green ton = 632,000 tons CO2 OK (Note: see calculation below for carbon weight calculation of 1.01 tons.)
Triple Check – Theoretical Calc for 1 MW online % = 90% kWh operation = 7,884,000 typical plant efficiency = 0.24, 1 kWh = 3413 Btu Btu = 112,117,050,000 moisture content 0.45 btu/lb = 4,575 Wood per year 12,253 green tons/year 1 green ton @45% moisture = 0.55 dry tons 50% of weight is carbon = 0.275 tons of carbon per green ton CO2 = 12 + 32 = 44/12 = 3.67 1.01 tons of carbon dioxide per green ton @ 45 % moisture Carbon dioxide released 12,367 tons / year CO2 Release Rate = 3,137 lbs CO2 per MWh OK +- 5%
2 Department of Energy, Table-1 www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/co2_report/co2emiss.pdf Coal = 2,117 lbs CO2 per MWhr Petroleum = 1,915 lbs CO2 per MWhr Gas = 1, 314 lbs CO2 per MWhr New power plants average 760 lbs CO2 per MWh , see page 2: http://conedisonsolutions.com/factsheets/MA%20Jan%202010.pdf Biomass = 3,327 lbs per MWhr (see footnote 1)
3 Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. 2005. “More Heat than Light.” p 1 www.policyarchive.org/bitstream/handle/10207/5503/NE-More%20Heat%20Than%20Light%20text%20%2b%20cover.pdf?sequence=1
5 Carbon per unit of energy (tonnes/TJ): Wood= 25, Oil= 19.9, Gas= 14.4, http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/papers/misc/energy_conv.html Note: Convert energy of dry wood 20 GJ/tonnes = .05 tonnes/GJ 50% carbon .025 tonnes/GJ = 25 tonnes C /TJ
In May of 2010, 90 scientists sent a letter to congress in regards to proposed climate legislation that would incentivize biomass incineration. The scientists insisted that burning biomass would be worse than fossil fuels and that biomass emissions must be accurately accounted for.
October 12, 2010 letter to Williamstown, Massachusetts Board of Selectmen about the 29.5 MW biomass power incinerator for Pownal, VT—right across the Mass border.
The Environmental Working Group put out a study in June called “Clearcut Disaster: Carbon Loophole Threatens US Forests,” that demonstrates the following:
“Most biomass-fueled electricity generation would produce billions of tons of uncounted emissions over the next 15 years while wiping out millions of acres of woodlands and eroding for decades the ability of existing forests to sequester atmospheric carbon.”
“Cutting of US forests will sharply increase and when this wood is burned in power plants, it will produce a huge surge in carbon emissions that will be kept off the books and, even worse, will be counted as an emission reduction. As a result we will seriously erode the power of standing forests to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, allow coal plants to continue operating by co-firing and fuel-switching, and stymie real progress toward true alternative power sources.”
Some more quotes from the study.
“Over the next 15 years about 4.7 billion tons of carbon will be generated from burning biomass, most of it from whole trees…This massive pulse of uncounted carbon dioxide will effectively erase 80% of the reduction in CO2 emissions from the power sector that is at the heart of federal climate legislation.”
If you support climate legislation you oppose biomass.
Folks such as Chris Matera of Massachusetts Forest Watch have come to refer to the rash of biomass incinerators being proposed all over the US as the “biomonster.”
Nothing against loggers (or ogres).…just having a little fun.
PROPOSED BIOMASS FOR MASSACHUSETTS, 50-mile radius wood-supply zones (total 135 MW) RED: Pioneer Renewable Energy, Greenfield YELLOW: Russell Biomass, Russell BLUE: Palmer Biomass, Springfield PINK: Tamarack Energy, Pittsfield GREEN: Pinetree Power, Fitchburg -two 12 MW proposed- (17 MW exists)
Dotted yellow lines represent 2 VT BIOMASS projects and 1 from Connecticut, missing on the map are: Pownal, Fair Haven, Montpelier CHP, Randolph CHP, several in NH).
Missing existing from VT, NH, CT?
Biomass Cut from Wendell State Forest
Picture: Chris Matera, Massachusetts Forest Watch, maforests.org
Jim Wallace, Gun Owners Action League
Forests in New England already give us so much, yet in June of 2010 Harvard Forest at Harvard University released Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape, which documents an alarming loss of forest cover in New England following 200 years of forest regeneration.
The report also warns of the potential impacts of forest biomass incineration: “Rising pressures for wood-based bioenergy to supply the region and other countries may intensify adverse harvesting practices and substantially change the timber economy.”
We already see some of the current uses of forests in Vermont. The question is, can our forests afford yet another stress, this time, one that consumes a whole tree in minutes, an entire tractor trailer load of chips in 20 minutes, the equivalent of an acre’s worth of forests in an hour?
The biomass industry already uses whole trees for incinerators and this practice will just expand if more incinerators are built.
But even if they didn’t use whole trees the issue of using forest residues or what they call “waste,” isn’t so cut and dried.
Nationally, these residues are more often than not the byproduct of unsustainable forest practices, often including clearcutting and spraying with toxic pesticides. Sourcing biomass from poor logging practices incentivizes this trend, making it more difficult for sustainable forestry to become the norm.
What are the rules for public lands, such as national forests? What can you do and what can’t you do?
White Mountain National Forest, Wild River Roadless Area, Than Brook Timber Sale, Unit 12.
Photos by Chris Matera, Massachusetts Forest Watch.
This sort of backwards and obsolete unsustainable logging has already destroyed more than 95% of the United States’ original native forest cover.
What exactly is this forest “waste” anyway? It’s small trees, crooked trees, tops of trees, branches and limbs. The latter contains the highest concentration of nutrients in the tree. When a tree dies in the forest, the nutrients are returned to the soil. Forests are nothing without soil. There is no waste in a forest, it is simply future tree growth.
Logging for biomass, even when not taking out whole trees, robs the forest soils of future nutrients, that are particularly important to be left in the forest to recover after logging.
Vermont’s forests were almost completely cleared during the 19th and 20th centuries and have only shown recovery over the past less than a century—although they are declining again…
Or as a board member of a Vermont nonprofit said: ”The problem really is that the soils that our current forests grow on were over-pastured, compacted, and eroded before the woods recovered…”
Because these forests were so throughly cleared, they are greatly lacking in soil nutrients. So it is vital in Vermont’s forests that we leave as much residue as possible after logging to replenish these nutrient-poor soils for future forest growth.
Some call what biomass does to our forests, the vacuum cleaner effect.
This study referenced here talks about removing carbon from forest soils…
— The use of harvest residues for energy production decreases soil carbon stocks. These changes in soil carbon stocks are remarkable compared to the other greenhouse gas emissions caused by the use of forest residues for energy. On a national scale, soil carbon stocks play an important role in forest carbon balances.
Now even if you’re not concerned about the forest’s ability to recover, how much of this residue is even out there?
Even the timber industry admits there isn’t a whole lot. RISI, which calls itself the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, says there isn’t enough to go around.
The reality is much if not all of this residue that biomass incinerators require is already spoken for, already being used being used for paper pulp, nursery and mulch industry, composite board and firewood.
It seems pretty likely that increased forest biomass incineration for power will sharply spike the price for firewood for home heating or require more logging to make up for the loss.
And take into account the decline in logging after the collapse of the housing market and the current recession, and there is even less forest residue available.
Won’t go into this too much as it’s not as relevant to the Northeast, but when I was working in Oregon I learned that main argument behind burning biomass was the idea that Western forests needed to be logged to prevent them from burning up in wildfire.
Of course, that’s total nonsense debunked by basic forest fire ecology, but the fear of fire is a powerful thing.
The points really quickly are that: Wildfire is essential to western forests. Wildfire is more a product of climate and weather than fuels. When it’s hot, dry, and windy big fires burn. Protect homes from burning, not forests.
The irony is that logging can make forests more prone to fire and is a false sense of security and teaching people not to focus on doing what would actually protect homes and save lives.
The biomass industry is moving forward with growing genetically engineered trees, such as GE cold hardy eucalyptus, which ArborGen just got permission from the USDA to plant 250,000 of in 7 southeastern US states. Organizations such as Global Justice Ecology Project are currently fighting this with a lawsuit, fearing an even larger scale commercial release of these untested Frankentrees.
There’s also something called Catchlight Energy, which is a joint partnership between timber beast Weyerhaeuser and oil giant Chevron to create GE trees for biofuels.
Evidence demonstrates biomass incinerators already burn whole trees. The operator of the Middlebury College biomass incinerator told me they used the whole tree, “from stump to branches.” The reality is that this practice will only expand as more incinerators are built.
Here’s a quote from an article in a newspaper from Oregon: “During a May 15 meeting last year convened by Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, a Seneca Sawmill official told government and community representatives that Seneca considered logging for fuel a viable strategy.
A quote from Mark Robinowitz, oilempire.us: Seneca plans to burn 280 thousand tons per year in their new 18 megawatt generator. Seneca owns 165 thousand acres of tree farms in the region. Therefore, they would need about 1.7 tons per acre per year of "biomass" just to fuel their new incinerator… One point seven tons per acre is roughly the amount of tree growth for forest lands designated "marginal forest land" under Oregon State Law. In other words, Seneca will have to fuel the incinerator with much more than mill trimmings and branches left over from their logging.
Here is a satellite photograph of the 50 megawatt McNeil biomass incinerator in Burlington. McNeil sources its wood in Vermont, New York, Quebec, Massachusetts and New Hampshire from clearcuts up to 25 acres. The incinerator burns 500,000 green tons a year of wood.
Here’s a picture I took in the spring of 2010 showing logs stacked in the yard at the McNeil incinerator, ready for chipping and burning.
Controversy with Fountains Forestry & McNeil refusing to see more sites, post pictures.
Here is a picture of a logging site where McNeil gets some of its wood. This is in Moretown., photos from unnamed source.
This is what sustainability looks like.
2 29.5 megawatt biomass power incinerators are proposed for Pownal & Fair Haven. The Beaver Wood incinerator would require an average of 500,000 gallons a day of river and well water.
Here’s a picture taken of the Hoosic showing a pretty low flow. Fire Department’s water board.
& Farm Bill subsidies
So information is all well and good. But the question is what do we do with that information?
Massachusetts has been leading the charge against biomass incineration. Dozens of volunteer organizers formed the Stop Spewing Carbon campaign, which resulted in public outreach, media coverage, letters to the editor, public demonstrations, public comments, city wide ballot measures, etc.
Biggest push was for a statewide ballot measure to end taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies for biomass incineration so it can go to clean energy like solar and wind. We got enough signatures to go to the ballot and the day we were going to submit, the State said they would change regulations, so we didn’t submit signatures. Proposed draft regulations by the Department of Energy would deny these subsidies to any biomass incinerator that isn’t 60% efficient and provide only partial credit to those not 40% efficient. Existing biomass incinerators for electricity operate at less than 25% efficiency.
Opposing out-of-state Beaver Wood Energy’s 29.5 MW proposal for Pownal (Fair Haven also). Company tried to get partial Certificate of Public Good from Vermont Public Service Board to qualify for tax subsidies that were running out and denied—moot because federal subsidies extended anyway.
Trying to get permitted through Act 250 and 248.
Here’s a quick rundown of some victories against biomass incinerators in several states across the US and the tactics employed.
Several other victories as well. I report on these monthly in the State Lines section of our Biomass Busters newsletter. On Facebook.
Here are some tactics. Hoping maybe tonight we can spend fifteen minutes to all write letters to the Bennington Banner or write to elected officials. I’d be willing to help anyone who wants to dictate a letter.
The Anti-Biomass Incineration & Forest Protection Campaign operates on a national level, travelling to and communicating with lawmakers in Washington, DC, commenting on policies, filing lawsuits, doing media work, publishing a monthly newsletter, informational websites, and doing public outreach.
200 ORGANIZATIONS & INDIVIDUALS IN 35 STATES.
We definitely need more jobs. But why do they have to be jobs that harm public health and the environment?
How about some real green jobs? Two options are efficiency related jobs and removing logging roads in national forests.
“The High Efficiency scenario assumes extensive efficiency improvements in all sectors of the economy--more efficient vehicles, improved appliances, better insulated buildings, more efficient lighting, manufacturing improvements, and the like.
and nearly 1.1 million jobs
Putting people to work in the woods is a great idea, but not cutting down more forests. We have hundreds of thousands of miles of unused and eroding logging roads in our national forests, including the Green Mountain Forest, adding up to 8 times the interstate highway system. Let’s put people to work removing those roads and protecting water quality. 2/3 of US drinking water comes from our national forests.
Energy Efficiency and Job Creation Authors: Howard Geller, John DeCicco and Skip Laitner
We estimate that about 293,000 new jobs could be created by 1995, 471,000 new jobs by 2000, and nearly 1.1 million jobs by 2010 on a net basis. The addition of 1.1 million jobs in 2010 represents approximately a 0.7% increase in the projected employment level that year.”
We can support legislation like the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act….
Vermont’s Rep. Welch Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (H.R. 5019), [passed in the House 5/6/10, to be voted on in the Senate]…is a common sense idea that would create jobs and provide a boost to local economies, while helping families afford their energy bills. It would also help more than 3 million Americans invest in energy-saving technology, saving families close to $10 billion on their energy bills over 10 years.
Expanded nationally, Home Star would save as much energy as taking three coal-fired power plants offline or hundreds of thousands of cars off the road.”
We can support and expand organizations such as Efficiency Vermont…Reports show that efficiency measures alone in VT could supply 19-30% of electricity needs, far more than biomass can provide.
Once we ratchet down on conservation and efficiency, we can develop the use of zero-waste, zero-emissions renewable energy sources (appropriately sited and scaled & community supported) including wind, solar, microhydro and tidal.
We’ve got to start thinking beyond burning stuff for electricity. Burning is what’s gotten us into this mess, and chances are we’re not going to burn our way out. Can clean energy ever come out of a smokestack?
We can also give our forests a break and start sourcing paper pulp and building materials from a fast-growing industrial hemp crop, not to mention food, some of the best, most digestible vegetable protein in the world, and textiles, which can also provide Vermont small farmers with much needed income.
Bill in the House right now, which Leahy should hear about for federally legalizing hemp. Vermont already has a law, but it’s null and void without federal law changing.
Where we must log for necessary forest products, let’s do so responsibly. There are ways to take trees from a forest without destroying the ecosystem. I know there are some damned good foresters around Vermont. But it’s important to realize that even if it’s done with the lightest touch, logging has an impact on forests 100% of the time.
From the research I have done, it appears that no combination of renewable energy will power the current American economic system, which has run on oil and continues to this day. We can provide a lot of our energy from conservation, efficiency and clean energy sources, but in the long run we’ve got to examine how our whole economic system is set up.
I’m not talking about communism or living in a cave, I talking about creating small-scale local economies, zero-waste renewable energy development, local food systems, full-cost accounting in regards to depleting natural resources, using the rest of the oil to create a greener infrastructure.
I’m on the steering committee for Transition Town Montpelier, which is part of a worldwide Transition Initiative to help communities adapt to climate change, peak oil, natural resource depletion and economic collapse by transitioning our economic system to what the planet can sustain and providing ourselves with more of what we need.
Vermont has one of the most active Transition movements in the country, including in this area, and is on its way to becoming the nation’s first transition state.
Thank you so much for having me. I hope this was useful information and I hope folks will stay in touch.
You can find my slideshow online at slideshare.net
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns, comments, etc.
Burning New England's Forests for Electricity?
BURNING NEW ENGLAND’S
FORESTS for ELECTRICITY?
Threats to public health, climate & forests
from biomass power incineration
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
“Burning biomass could
lead to significant increases
in emissions of nitrogen
oxides, particulate matter
and sulfur dioxide and have
severe impacts on the
health of children, older
adults, and people with
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
“Biomass power plants pose
an unacceptable risk to the
public’s health by
increasing air pollution…”
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
“Of particular concern to the breast
cancer community about this
[biomass] plant is the release of
toxic chemicals like dioxin and
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAH’s) into the air in communities
already experiencing needlessly
high rates of breast cancer.”
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
Physicians for Social
Burning biomass would
“contribute to particulate
air pollution emissions by
increasing air pollution…
and therefore we oppose
the construction of such
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
Medical Society (MA):
“The Hampden District
Medical Society has expanded
its opposition to construction
and operation of [the Spring-
field facility] and all other
biomass power plants in
Western Massachusetts, again
citing unacceptable health
risk to the population.”
BIOMASS = HEALTH THREAT
North Carolina Academy of
“Numerous and serious
adverse health consequences
…can result from human
exposure to the components
of emissions of biomass
Biomass “will have a
direct negative impact on
the health of our Nation’s
children: both immediately
and cumulatively through-
out their lifetimes, and for
generations to come.”
-Dr. William Sammons, board
“The pollution from
biomass plants causes
asthma and heart
attacks, cancer, shortens
lives and poses a health
-Dr. Ron Saff, asthma
will lead to particulate
matter air pollution in
our valley and that air
pollution will lead to
-Dr. Marc McDermott,
BIOMASS AIR POLLUTION
Pollutants Cancer Heart Lung Other
Nitrogen Oxides Premature
Particulates (PM 10,
Toluene Harm to
microscopic solids or
liquid droplets that are
so small that they can
get deep into the lungs
and cause serious
PAIN IN THE ASH
• Fallout in wood ash
“is a major source of
into the environment.”
• “Radioactivity will be
present in both the stack
releases and in the ash.”
• More Cesium-137 (up to
100 times) than from
nuclear reactor waste!
PAIN IN THE ASH
• “The problem is,
however, that besides
nutrients, the ash also
contains heavy metals.”
• “Cadmium poses a
special risk to the use of
wood ash in agriculture.
It pollutes a large fraction
of the ash generated in a
CLEARCUTTING THE CLIMATE
“Logging the world’s
forests is the #2 cause
of climate change”
for 25-30% of human
into the atmosphere”
– U.N. Food &
• “Forest biomass generally emits more
greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit
of energy produced.”
Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy
Study, Manomet Center for Conservation
Sciences, June 2010
• “For biomass replacement of coal-fired power
plants, the net cumulative emissions in 2050 are
approximately equal to what they would have
been burning coal; and for replacement of
natural gas cumulative total emissions are
substantially higher with biomass electricity
Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study,
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
REVIEW OF MANOMET STUDY
• “The Manomet study has underestimated the net
carbon emissions of biomass power, and policy-
makers should be extremely cautious about
accepting the study’s optimistic conclusions…”
• “The results in the Manomet study should thus be
viewed by policy-makers as an extreme best-case
scenario unlikely to be achievable in reality.”
-Review of the Manomet Biomass Sustainability
and Carbon Policy Study. Prepared by Mary S.
Booth, PhD for the Clean Air Task Force.
BIOMASS NOT “CARBON
“Exempting emissions from
bio-energy use is improper
for greenhouse gas
“Harvesting existing forests
for electricity adds net carbon
to the air.”
-Science, 325:529, Searchinger
October 23, 2009
BIOMASS VS. FOSSIL FUELS
CARBON DIOXIDE STACK EMISSIONS/MWh
CARBON DIOXIDE STACK
90 SCIENTISTS VS. BIOMASS
“The combustion of
biomass replaces fossil
emissions with its own
emissions (which may
even be higher per
unit of energy
because of the lower
energy to carbon ratio
IPCC MEMBER QUESTIONS
The claim that biomass power is “‘carbon
neutral’ because the new trees use the same
carbon dioxide to grow that they released when
burned is false as has been recognized by both
US scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change on which I serve.”
-William Moomaw, Professor of International
Environmental Policy and Director of the Center
for International Environment and Resource
Policy at Tufts University.
• “Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass
per unit of energy generated are about 1.5
times higher than from coal and 3 to 4
times greater than from natural gas.”
-“Clearcut Disaster: Carbon Loophole
Threatens U.S. Forests,” Environmental
Working Group, June 2010
• “Require the equivalent of clear-cutting between 18
and 30 million acres of forests over the next 15
years…an area larger than the entire state of
• “By 2030, the equivalent of up to 50 million acres
could be clear-cut…”
-“Clearcut Disaster: Carbon Loophole Threatens
U.S. Forests,” Environmental Working Group, June
• “Over the next 15 years about 4.7 billion tons of
carbon will be generated from burning biomass.”
• “Erase 80% of the reduction in CO2 emissions
from the power sector that is at the heart of
federal climate legislation.”
-“Clearcut Disaster: Carbon Loophole Threatens
U.S. Forests,” Environmental Working Group,
NO WASTE IN A FOREST
Soil Carbon Stock
“The use of harvest
residues for energy
soil carbon stocks.”
“WASTE” NOT, WANT NOT
‘waste wood’ in the
nation's forests is
simply not there.”
-RISI, the leading
for the global forest
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
• particle board
FANNING THE FLAMES
OF FIRE HYSTERIA
• Wildfire is essential to
• Wildfire is more a
product of climate and
weather than fuels
• When it’s hot, dry,
and windy big fires
• Protect homes from
burning, not forests
WHOLE TREE LOGGING
“When asked if the
company would make a
commitment not to log
for fuel, the Seneca
official replied, ‘No, we
can’t. We are a business.
We don’t know what the
future will bring.’”
-Lisa Arkin, Oregon Toxics Alliance
MCNEIL BIOMASS POWER INCINERATOR
UP ITS BIOMESS?
• Stop Spewing
• Ballot measure
• Manomet study
• Renewable Energy
“ Given the general findings of the
Manomet study…I direct you
and your staff at DOER to move
expeditiously to align our
regulations with our better
understanding of the
greenhouse gas implications of
-Letter from Ian Bowles, Secretary of
the Massachusetts Office of
Energy and Environmental Affairs
to Commissioner Giudice of the
Deparment of Energy Resources,
July 7, 2010.
VICTORIES vs. BIOMASS
• FLORIDA (March 2010): Citizen advocacy
against 55 MW incinerator proposed for Gretna
caused company to withdraw permit application
• FLORIDA (April): Citizen appeal of air
pollution permit for 47 MW incinerator in Port St.
Joe resulted in withdrawal of application
• MICHIGAN (June): Traverse City city ballot
giving citizens right to vote on future
construction of incinerators. Company “shelved”
plans for incinerator.
MORE VICTORIES vs. BIOMASS
• INDIANA (July): Planning Commission voted
against development plan following citizen
• FLORIDA (August): Lawsuit against human
health impacts of incinerator in Gainesville.
• WASHINGTON (September): Citizen group
filed a petition claiming that the Port of Shelton
wrongfully signed a lease option with biomass
incinerator developer before environmental
MORE VICTORIES vs. BIOMASS
• WISCONSIN (November): Plans for largest
biomass power incinerator in Midwest withdrawn
because of high costs compared to other
• OHIO (December): 9 proposals to co-fire forest
biomass with coal totaling 2,210-MW “on back
burner” because of costs compared to other
• WASHINGTON (January): Thurston County,
Washington county commissioners enact first
moratorium on biomass power in U.S.
LOCAL, REGIONAL, NATIONAL
& INTERNATIONAL ISSUE
• High Efficiency: “The High Efficiency scenario
assumes extensive efficiency improvements in all
sectors of the economy--more efficient vehicles,
improved appliances, better insulated buildings, more
efficient lighting, manufacturing improvements.”
• National Forest Road Removal: “A selective program
of road removal…would promote ecological and
economic values, provide good jobs for heavy
equipment operators and other forest workers, and
can be pursued without compromising national forest
EFFICIENCY & CONSERVATION
• “Home Star Energy Retrofit Act - By encouraging homeowners to
invest in energy efficiency retrofits, Home Star would create
170,000 manufacturing and construction jobs that could not be
outsourced to China.
• “Efficiency Vermont created more than 430 jobs in 2007 and
2008, generating more than $40 million in income. In its first
seven years, Efficiency Vermont cut our energy use by 7 percent,
reducing costs for homes and businesses by $31 million annually.
ZERO WASTE RENEWABLES
(appropriately sited & scaled)