Category Archives: Exclusive
– by Josh Schlossberg, Earth Island Journal
Kevin Bundy has tramped through his share of forests in California’s Sierra Nevada. Where he sees a diverse ecosystem of ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and white fir, prime wildlife habitats, and one of the world’s best buffers against climate change, many public and private land managers see something different. Of course, they too observe living forests, but they also see tinder for future wildfires, as well as an opportunity to procure home-grown, renewable biomass energy.
A senior attorney with the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, Bundy works at the national level to ensure strict accounting of carbon emissions from the burning of biomass, and on the local level to limit the type of fuels burned by biomass facilities. He’s convinced that the nation needs to “get away from fossil fuels and shift to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as possible,” given the threat of climate change. But while he acknowledges biomass might be renewable “in some sense,” he sees it as “something of a false solution to our climate and energy challenges” compared to other renewable sources like solar and wind.
– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A white paper by a bioenergy industry consulting firm critiques a recent letter sent to Congress by 65 U.S. scientists opposing a carbon neutral “biomass” amendment to an energy policy bill, saying the letter includes “flawed logic,” “factual errors,” and “hyperbolic language.”
William Strauss, Ph.D., president and founder of Maine-based FutureMetrics, a global consultant in the wood pellet industry, agrees that not all biomass energy is automatically carbon neutral, as the amendment in the Energy Policy Modernization Act (approved by the House and Senate), would determine.
However, Strauss and a number of other bioenergy supporters “strongly disagree with the experts’ characterization in their letter to Congress that biomass is never carbon neutral.”
Strauss writes that for biomass energy to be carbon neutral “the forest growth rate has to be greater than or equal to the harvest rate.” In other words, so long as forests continue to adequately grow and sequester carbon, logging for bioenergy adds no additional carbon into the atmosphere.
Letter co-author William R. Moomaw, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus and Co-Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, said that Strauss’ definition of carbon neutral biomass is “far too simplistic.”
Moomaw agrees that other trees will take in the CO2 released by logging a tree for bioenergy, however he makes the point that these trees are also absorbing carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
“The proper way to do carbon accounting,” Moomaw said, “is to add up all of the emissions, and then all of the removals into sinks.”
– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Four school districts in western Massachusetts plan to switch out existing oil or propane heating systems for wood pellets, despite red flags raised by public health advocates.
Currently, biomass heating in New England is more economical than propane, slightly more expensive than fuel oil # 2, and several times more costly than natural gas.
As of May, the average cost of propane per million BTU in New Hampshire is $28.32 ($2.59/gallon), with wood pellets at $15.65 ($258/ton), fuel oil #2 at $13.95 ($1.93/gallon), and natural gas at $8.62 ($.86/therm), according to the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning.
The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs doesn’t publish BTU calculations, however rates for propane are slightly higher than in New Hampshire ($2.75/gallon), nearly the same for wood pellets ($260/ton), and fuel oil a bit higher ($2.18/gallon), with the biggest difference being natural gas, at one-third the cost ($.25/therm).
To help defray the expense of “renewable thermal heating and cooling upgrades,” the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) offers Schools and Public Housing Integrating Renewables and Efficiency (SAPHIRE) grants.
This year, the Sanderson Academy Elementary School in Ashfield received a $171,598 SAPHIRE grant to replace its oil heating system with wood pellets. Last year, the Hawlemont Elementary School in Charlemont and Heath Elementary School received a total of $355,375 to switch to wood pellets.
Other recipients of SAPHIRE grants for switching from oil to biomass heating include the Mount Everett Regional High School and Undermountain Elementary in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, Overlook Middle School in the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District, Petersham Central Elementary School in the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, and the Berlin Memorial Elementary School in the Berlin-Boylston Regional School District.
But economics isn’t the only topic relevant to biomass heating at schools. The American Lung Association, the Buckland County Board of Health, and local advocates are worried about schoolchildren’s exposure to air pollution from wood heating systems.