February 2016

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Climate Consequences of Biomass Energy

(February 2016 – Volume 7, Issue 2 )

 

Report: Climate Consequences from Logging Forests for Biomass Energy

– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

A new report warns about the potential worsening of climate change from logging Canadian forests for electricity and heat, and recommends a “precautionary approach” regarding the expansion of biomass energy.

Forest Biomass Energy Policy in the Maritime Provinces, written by Jamie Simpson for the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based East Coast Environmental Law, evaluates environmental impacts from existing and proposed bioenergy facilities in eastern Canada, with concerns including: inaccurate carbon accounting, an increase in logging, a decrease in forest productivity and soil health, and loss of biodiversity.

The recent uptick in bioenergy is “driven almost entirely” by policy decisions spurring the development of fossil fuel alternatives, according to the report, with regulations failing to accurately assess environmental tradeoffs.



Simpson tracks seven biomass power facilities in the Maritime region. Two facilities in Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Power Inc., a 60 megawatt facility in Port Hawkesbury, and a 30 megawatt facility in Brooklyn, make up approximately 4% of the province’s electricity. Four biomass power facilities in New Brunswick generate 160 megawatts, while a wood and oil burning facility in Prince Edward Island generates 1.2 megawatts.



Despite emerging science demonstrating significant carbon emissions from bioenergy, most international and regional policies ignore these emissions in its accounting.

READ MORE / COMMENT

Bioenergy Wrecks the Climate

– by Ellen Moyer, Huffington Post

Climate change is telling us to stop pitching pollution into the atmosphere–in much the same way that the bubonic plague taught our ancestors to stop dumping filth into the streets in the Middle Ages. We listened then, but not now.

Governments continue paying industries huge bonuses to release carbon into the atmosphere by burning fuels from fossilized plants and–increasingly–live plants (“biomass”). 

Governments justify subsidies for bioenergy by flawed carbon accounting policies and a myth that bioenergy is “carbon neutral.” This myth asserts that the regrowth of plants recaptures the carbon released from bioenergy, thereby preventing carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere. However, regrowth of plants can never be guaranteed, and even if regrowth occurs, it takes too long for bioenergy to be carbon neutral. Regrowth typically takes several months for agricultural crops and to up to 450 years for wood. 

Though the carbon-neutrality myth has been disproven–for example, by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences–it persists tenaciously in government policies, even in President Obama’s otherwise beneficial Clean Power Plan.

READ MORE / COMMENT

 

Military Forest to Fuels

– by Chris Zinda, Counterpunch

The Department of Defense is subsidizing Red Rock Biofuels, of Ft. Collins, Colorado $75 million to annually create 18 million gallons of highly volatile jet, naphtha (white gas), and diesel fuel from forest biomass in the town of Lakeview, Oregon. The Environmental Assessment for the project, whose public comment ends February 5, 2016, is site specific and does not address regional cumulative environmental and social impacts.

One hundred miles from nowhere, Lakeview has some of the worst fine particulate / PM2.5 pollution in the nation – a nasty air pollutant the lodges deep in the lungs and causes long term and debilitating damage, especially for the elderly. Over the years, EPA has strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter due to the abundance of scientific literature regarding the negative health effects of PM exposure and its costs to society.

The project requires a great deal of forest biomass over its lifespan and would not be built without an assurance that the supply would be available and constant. This supply cannot possibly be met though Red Rock’s association with the Collins sawmill alone. An Oregon company, Collins is heavily invested in biomass, involved in several projects including a large facility in Chester, CA and another currently being proposed Humboldt County. It requires resources from federal lands to be viable.

READ MORE / COMMENT
 


The Biomass Monitor is the nation’s leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.

Daily blog and back issues: thebiomassmonitor.org 

Photo: Logging for biomass energy in Nova Scotia, East Coast Environmental Law
Cartoon: Pedro Molina, Confidencial 
Sidebar Photos: Doug Bevington

Editor-in-Chief – Josh Schlossberg
Associate Editors – Samantha Chirillo, Mike Ewall
Editorial Board – Jon Rhodes, Dr. Brian Moench, George Wuerthner, Roy Keene, Brett Leuenberger 

For submissions, feedback, or questions, email thebiomassmonitor@gmail.com

From the Editor

– by Josh Schlossberg, Editor-in-Chief

U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King from Maine–the second most biomass energy dependent state, after California–have tacked an amendment onto an energy policy bill that would classify biomass energy from forests as “carbon neutral.” 

As a pair of articles in the February issue of The Biomass Monitor explore, logging forests for bioenergy has significant carbon emissions that we can only ignore at the risk of exacerbating runaway climate change. Whether you’re a biomass booster or buster, it’s past time for rational, science-literate Americans to demand that any government energy policies include an accurate accounting of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from cutting and burning trees for heat, electricity, and transportation fuels.  

All energy sources–from tar sands to solar, from wind to natural gas, from hydro to biomass–have health and environmental impacts. The only logical route is to be transparent about the drawbacks and weigh them against the benefits. If the pros outweigh the cons, then that might be an energy source worth expanding. If vice versa, maybe it’s time to abandon it.  

Forest biomass is a baseload source of electricity–as opposed to intermittent solar and wind–available in most regions of the U.S. Yet logging can degrade forests, deplete soils, and decrease biodiversity, while biomass facilities require considerable amounts of fresh water. Further, biomass energy has smokestack emissions, which include air pollutants such as particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. 

And then there’s the carbon issue…“Carbon neutral” biomass has been debunked by a large and growing number of scientific studies. Cold, hard data show that burning trees (and other biomass, including trash) emits a substantial amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

If industry can only sell bioenergy to the public by cooking the carbon accounting books–instead of being up front about the drawbacks, and insisting the positives outweigh the negatives–might this reveal an underlying lack of confidence in its own product?

Conference Call

Does Logging Forests Lower Fire Risk & is Woody Biomass Clean Renewable Energy?

Join The Biomass Monitor on Thursday, February 18 @ 5 pm PT / 6 pm MT / 7 pm CT / 8 pm ET, where Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute, will discuss the ecological benefits of wildfire, and the impacts of “thinning” forests for biomass energy. 

RSVP on Facebook and email thebiomassmonitor@gmail.com for the call-in number. 

Stream the audio recording of January’s call: Doctor’s Orders: Wood Burning is Hazardous to Your Health with Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

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