AUDIO: An On-the-Ground Look at Logging for Biomass Energy

Not everyone knows that logging forests is one of the main fuel sources for biomass energy facilities. And fewer still have seen what these projects look like on the ground. 
In November, The Biomass Monitor hosted a conference call with Howard Brown, one of many residents of Summit County, Colorado, fighting to keep the White River National Forest from clearcutting along world-class hiking/skiing/biking trails to fuel the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass facility in Gypsum.
Listen to the audio here.
Next Call:
Gainesville, Florida's Biomass Debacle 
Thursday, December 17 @ 2 pm ET / 5 pm PT:
Attorney Ray Washington will give us a recap of the history of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, including local opposition to the 100-megawatt biomass facility, electoral politics, slanted media coverage, and recent controversies with the local utility company refusing to pay for the electricity.
RSVP here and email for call-in number. 

Biomass Power Facilities Idle for Months

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

One of biomass energy’s main selling points is that it’s a baseload source of energy available 24/7, unlike solar and wind. Despite these promises--and hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies, grants and loans--several biomass power facilities across the U.S. have been sitting idle for months at a time, thanks to fires, equipment failure, and competition from cheaper energy sources.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy – Gypsum, Colorado

Eagle Valley Clean Energy, an 11.5-megawatt biomass power facility in Gypsum, Colorado began operations in December 2013, only to have its conveyor belt catch fire in December 2014.

Despite assurances from facility spokespeople that they’d resume operations within a few months, the facility is still offline as of November 2015.

While Eagle Valley’s attorney recently said they’d be up and running again by the end of the year, the Town of Gypsum might not let that happen, with town officials pointing out that the facility had been operating without a required certificate of occupancy, according to Vail Daily.

Eagle Valley has received $40 million in loan guarantees from the USDA, a portion of an annual $12.5 million matching payment for feedstock transportation from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (part of the Farm Bill), and a $250,000 biomass utilization grant.

Gainesville Renewable Energy Center – Gainesville, Florida

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass power facility in Gainesville, Florida, started burning wood chips for electricity on December 2013.

In August 2015, a lightning strike caused the facility to shut down temporarily, and when it became operational again, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) decided not to bring it back online. Instead, GRU has relied on power from Deerhaven Generating Station, a coal plant that is “more economic than GREC’s facility,” according to Margaret Crawford, GRU Communications Director.

GRU pays about $39 per megawatt for electricity from GREC, while GRU’s other facilities generate electricity between $22 and $36 per megawatt, according to the Gainesville Sun.

On November 4, Deerhaven shut down due to a leak in a steam-generating tube, forcing GRU to bring GREC back online temporarily. GREC was taken offline again on November 11, according to David Warm, Marketing and Communications for GRU. 

Nacogdoches Power – Nacogdoches Texas

Nacogdoches Power, a 100-megawatt biomass power facility owned by Southern Power Company in Nacogdoches, Texas, went online in June 2012, but was not operational for a total of 17 months, as of July 2015 (the most recent data by the Energy Information Administration).

Austin Energy purchases all of the power from the facility, which adds $2 a month to customers’ utility bills, according to the Statesman.

Austin Energy acknowledges the “disproportionate expense” of the facility, and doesn’t plan to extend the twenty year contract.

Aspen Biomass – Lufkin, Texas

Aspen Biomass, a 50-megawatt biomass power facility owned by NRG Energy Services in Lufkin, Texas came online in September 2011, sitting idle a total of 16 months over the next four years.

The facility shutdown was blamed on “market economics,” according to Biomass Magazine.

WE Energies – Rothschild, Wisconsin

WE Energies and Domtar Corp’s 50-megawatt biomass power facility opened in Rothschild, Wisconsin in November 2013.

After generating no electricity in October 2014, it was taken offline from December 2014 through May 2015 for repairs on the electrical generating steam turbine and leaks in the condenser tubes. During its first full year, it was operational only 16% of the time, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. During this time, the facility used more energy than it generated.

“To run the plant would have been more costly than other options like running our natural gas plant or buying power on the market,” We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said, according to Midwest Energy News.

The facility has reportedly been operational again since June 2015. 

Biomass Energy Growing Pains

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Several biomass power facilities have come online over the last few years in Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, and Hawaii, but not without difficulties, including fires, inefficient equipment, lawsuits, and competing with the low price of natural gas.

Gypsum, Colorado

Eagle Valley Clean Energy, an 11.5-megawatt biomass power facility in Gypsum, Colorado started operating in December 2013, only to have its conveyor belt catch fire in December 2014. Spokespersons said the facility would be back online shortly, yet as of October, it’s still offline. There have been no further media reports investigating why the facility still isn’t operating, and multiple calls and emails to the facility from The Biomass Monitor were not returned.  

Another thorn in Eagle Valley’s claw is a lawsuit filed against the company in U.S. District Court in June 2015 by Wellons, Inc., an Oregon-based corporation that designed and built the biomass facility.

Wellons is suing Eagle Valley Clean Energy for $11,799,864 for breach of contract, accusing the company of “fraudulent transfers” and “civil conspiracy,” involving the transferring of $18.5 million of federal subsidies to “insider” parties in an alleged effort to hide the money. The money was issued to the facility from the federal government under Section of 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus, involving payments to reimburse companies building renewable energy facilities.

Wellons claims that, on top of the nearly twelve million dollars Eagle Valley must pay them, they are owed past due interest of $1,185,433.56, with debt accruing at $3254.90 per day.

Another bump in the road for Eagle Valley involves the Chapter 11 bankcruptcy of the logging contractor that provides them the trees to fuel the facility, West Range Reclamation. West Range has provided nearly all of the wood to the facility since it opened, mostly from beetle-killed lodgepole pine from the White River National Forest.

Nacogdoches, Texas

Southern Power’s Nacogdoches Generating Facility, a 100-megawatt biomass power facility in Nacogdoches, Texas, opened in 2012 only to sit idle much of the time due to an inability to compete with the low price of natural gas, according to Reuters.

Rothschild, Wisconsin

In November 2013, WE Energies and Domtar Corp’s 50-megawatt biomass power facility opened in Rothschild, Wisconsin. However, it was offline from December 2014 through May 2015 for repairs, and was operational only 16% of the time during its first full year, in part due to an inability to compete with the low price of natural gas, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Gainesville, Florida

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass power facility, came online in Gainesville, Florida in 2013, and soon ran into controversy with noise complaints from neighbors.

In October 2014, the Gainesville City Commission approved an audit to look into financial transactions between Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and GREC, which increased costs for the utility and its customers.

In April 2015, Wood Resource Recovery, one of the main fuel suppliers for GREC, sued the facility for breach of contract for $5 million in damages. Part of the complaint has to do with GREC’s refusal to take yard waste and materials from agriculturally zoned properties.

In August, the facility shut down temporarily, and when it became operational again, Gainesville Regional Utilities decided not to bring it back online, with no “projected return to service at this current time,” according to Margaret Crawford, GRU Communications Director. Instead, GRU is relying on power that is “more economic than GREC’s facility.”

In September, the city audit report uncovered that Gainesville Regional Utilities was paying $56,826 more per month than it was supposed to, totaling $900,000 in over-payments. 

Koloa, Hawaii

Green Energy Team’s 7.5-megawatt biomass power facility in Koloa, Hawaii, was scheduled to start up in April 2015, but the official opening has been pushed back to November because the efficiency level from burning wood chips was lower than it should be, according to The Garden Island. The turbine was dismantled and reassembled, and is currently undergoing more testing. 

Water Abuse in the Fracking Process

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network

Water is used in shale gas development from cradle to grave, however, most people don't think about it beyond the issues of groundwater contamination.

Procuring and bringing raw materials like silica sand, steel, cement, and fracking chemicals to the well locations requires an incredible amount of manufacturing, transportation, and plant fuel, which are water intensive fuels to produce.
Each well requires 5-9 million gallons of water to be fracked. Water is also used to create oil-based drilling muds that are injected downhole when the well is first drilled to lubricate the drill bit. For pipelines, the most prevalent way infrastructure is tested for integrity is hydrostatic testing, where water is used to pressurize the lines and test for leaks.
Water withdrawals are approved by states and in some cases by federal river commissions. Because the water is combined with fracking fluid, sand, chemicals, and underground contaminants, much of it never returns to the water cycle. In fact, between 50 to 80 percent of the water used in fracking remains deep underground, forever entombed.

In 2012, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, comprised of governors' representatives from PA, MD, and New York, as well as the White House, approved a three million gallon per day water withdrawal in Jersey Shore, PA that required the removal and relocation of 32 mobile home resident families.

Drought conditions in Texas' Barnett Shale and California's Monterrey Shale regions force residential, commercial, and agricultural consumers to compete with the needs of fracking companies.

If well casings fail or fissures communicate with groundwater supplies, contamination of rural landowners' drinking water can occur. In 2009, 18 water supplies in Dimock, Pennsylvania were found by the Pennsylvania DEP to have been contaminated by drilling mud, fracking chemicals, and methane. Three remaining families are suing the driller, Cabot Oil & Gas, for damages and are going to federal jury trial this November with the support of Energy Justice Network.
Waste streams from the drilling create water contamination issues. Increasingly, the industry brags about "recycling" water, or "beneficial reuse," which entails filtering the drilling mud and fracking waste through an accordion press, similar to cheesecloth, to remove the solids. This allows the remaining liquid to be reused with more water in future frack jobs. What the industry doesn't tell you is that the solids are sent to municipal landfills that discharge their leachate into surface waters.
Another popular way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking is deep underground injection wells, known as Class II wells, permitted by the EPA. This method of disposal has been linked to earthquakes by Ohio state geologists because the "slick water" as it's known by the industry, can lubricate faults.
Finally, water is intensively used by gas power plants that are being built at an alarming rate to generate steam and cool the plant. Cooling water is discharged into surface water and can cause disruption to local ecosystems that are sensitive to temperature like trout fisheries. The consumption of water can also compete with the needs of local water consumers in times of drought, when utilities may be required to raise rates.

Energy's Water Footprint

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

In 2005, thermoelectric power plants (nuclear, coal, oil, gas and trash/biomass incinerators) were responsible for 41% of all freshwater withdrawals and 49% of total water withdrawals (including oceans and brackish waters) in the U.S. Much of this water (mainly used for cooling) is returned to local water bodies, but at a higher temperature, which can be harmful to aquatic life. A large portion is also evaporated, so total water consumption is still quite significant.

These thermoelectric power plants consume an average of 800 gallons per megawatthour, ranging from 600 to 1,100 gal/MWh.  This means that a 500 megawatt power plant running at 90% capacity would use 2.4 to 4.4 Billion gallons of water each year for cooling.  About 85% of this is evaporated, draining rivers and aquifers. The balance is returned to the river as a heated solution containing concentrated pollutants like aluminum and phosphorus.

Some biomass incinerators have sought to use sewage effluent (the liquids that are separated out at a sewage treatment plant) as cooling water. Sewage effluent is a highly contaminated solution containing disinfection byproducts, metals and numerous classes of discarded and excreted biologically active chemicals such as active pharmaceutical ingredients and personal care products, endocrine disrupting compounds, mutagenic cytotoxins and others. These pollutants can contaminate the air when that water is evaporated. Whatever isn’t evaporated will concentrated in the wastewater that the biomass facilities release into local water bodies.

Air cooling is an alternative to water-based cooling, but is noisier and more expensive. Some state regulators have allowed water cooling based on company claims that air cooling is cost prohibitive.

Growing crop-based biomass also requires a lot of water. The biomass industry favors trees and wood waste it doesn’t have to grow, but of the available energy crops, quick-growing, high-yield plants like Miscanthus are preferred. Such crops are also quite demanding. 

A review of the Miscanthus-burning biomass incinerator proposed for Jasper, Indianafound that Miscanthus is a thirsty crop, requiring irrigation in areas like Southern Indiana, where rainful is insufficient and global warming is worsening droughts. The research found that Miscanthus is not drought-tolerant, even for a single season, and that without irrigation, Miscanthus’ yields are variable/low. However, it is unlikely that irrigation of Miscanthus will be economically viable, since biomass production must be low cost and low input, and establishment of a Miscanthus crop requires expensive transplanting of plantlets.

Because Miscanthus has a deep, dense root mat, extending far deeper than corn roots, it sucks up more water and dries out soil more than corn or soy. European researchers have expressed concern that Miscanthus production may prevent ground water restoration and diminish groundwater.

Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company. 
The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.
Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents. 
The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.
The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.
Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.
A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.
Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.
At the time of the final vigil on May 31, only seven families remained at Riverdale. Those families invited and hosted volunteers from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states that evening to stay until morning when construction was scheduled to begin in an effort dubbed "Hands Across Riverdale."
They issued the following demands:
We demand that Aqua America sit down with the residents and their representation to negotiate in good faith a fair deal that...
1. Permits the remaining residents to stay living at Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
2. Provides those residents who have left with just compensation to cover their expenses.
3. Allows for the return of all residents who have left and wish to return.
On June 1, no construction vehicles came and road barricades boldly stated, "We Will Fight For Our Homes" and "Aqua America Kills Community." The following day, Aqua America sat down to negotiate with three pro-bono lawyers representing residents at the company headquarters in Bryn Mawr. A tentative agreement was reached and the residents were informed of the terms the following week. 
Details of that agreement are not publicly available at this time but it did include a "gag order," or non-disclosure agreement forbidding the residents and their children from speaking about the incident.
For a total of 12 days, Riverdale blossomed once again behind the barricades, despite all the suffering already endured. Volunteers joined to cook, run security shifts to prevent looting, move sheds, salvage building materials, plant a garden, provide child care, leaflet Jersey Shore and Williamsport, and to blast the story of Riverdale all over social networks.
On the twelfth day, Aqua America sent a subcontracted security firm to secure the site. Activists blocked the road in defiance, demanding that Aqua America continue to negotiate with residents in good faith. State police arrived on scene and ordered the protesters to move. There were no arrests. A chain link fence across the front of the park was constructed and later, a barbed wire fence surrounding the pump station construction area was added.
Round the clock security guards were stationed at the front of the park, which was lit with light towers resembling a prison. Construction proceeded even with the seven families remaining at Riverdale, including four young children. Finally, the $10,000 raised through online crowdfunding helped the residents move and relieved those who had already left with some financial burdens.
Former residents are scattered around the area. Many of the seniors were forced from independence into senior care centers. Three senior residents have passed away since, dislocated from the riverside community they chose to spend the rest of their life.
Some residents moved their homes to less desirable and more expensive parks, some are renting more expensive apartments and mobile homes, some are on the low-income housing waiting list, and others are staying with family and friends.
The story of Riverdale illustrates how little the gas companies, the governors, and President Obama care about the livelihoods of poor people when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.

VICTORY! DC Denies Exelon-Pepco Merger

DC's Public Service Commission just shot down the plan for the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon, to buy Pepco, the electric utility that services the Washington, DC area and a few neighboring states.

This is a huge victory for ratepayers and the environment, since Exelon wanted to have the extra millions of ratepayers to push the high cost of their aging nuclear reactors onto. They also have been hostile to renewable energy.

We played a small role in this, alerting people in DC to the hearings in the past year, and testifying at three of them. However, the major credit goes to the Power DC coalition, and the many people and groups who came and spoke out about this awful deal. Thanks to all who make this victory possible! DC was the last hope, as neighboring states have already approved the merger. For more info, look for updates on and

AUDIO: Energy's Water Footprint in the Western Drought

Drought in the western U.S. is in the news every day, yet most media coverage ignores the impact from water withdrawals for industrial power facilities. While municipal and agricultural use are major drains on limited water resources, so too are biomass, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power facilities. 
On August 20, The Biomass Monitor spoke with Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Energy/Water Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates, about the findings of her report, "Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity," discussing the water demands of electricity generating power facilities and lower-impact alternatives.

If You Build It, They Will Cut

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Generating biomass energy doesn’t result in more logging, according to the biomass industry, whose spokespersons claim facilities only make use of “waste” wood already coming from existing logging operations.

Ron Kotrba, Senior Editor for Pellet Mill Magazine, wrote in the May/June 2015 issue that biomass is the “most unlikely of the forest products to drive the general practice of forestry in the U.S.”

Kotrba believes that the notion of biomass “driving forestry practices in the U.S. is a purposefully deceptive scare tactic used by some in an attempt to influence the perceptions of policy makers and the public.”

Chris Matera, director of Massachusetts Forest Watch, a grassroots forest advocacy group based in Northampton, has long warned that “wood fueled biomass energy will add tremendous pressure, and further degrade already stressed forests.”

“Existing wood-fueled biomass facilities already cut and burn enormous amounts of whole trees for fuel,” said Matera, “and any new facilities will only add more logging pressure.” 

Clearly, opinions differ among the biomass industry and its critics, leaving the question: do biomass energy facilities increase logging?

Federal and state agency personnel, along with members of the biomass industry, have made statements demonstrating that the construction of a bioenergy facility is likely to result in a local increase in logging, including in National Forests, by opening an additional market for the sale of trees that might have otherwise been left in the forest to grow.

Brad Flatten, Stewardship and Timber Sales Specialist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, was quoted in “Wood Supply Assessment for Commercial-Scale Biomass Power Cogeneration and Biomass Utilization Projects in Central Washington,” saying the establishment of biomass energy facilities in Washington state “may provide a market for small-diameter material typically generated from fuels treatment…and potentially increase the number of treatment acres.”

In other words, controversial “fuel reduction” logging projects, which many scientific studies suggest aren’t effective at reducing the likelihood of a large wildfire, may expand in scale if a biomass energy facility will purchase the trees.

Biomass energy, said Eric Lamfers of the Washington Department of Natural Resources in the “Wood Supply” document, “affords treatment of areas that normally could not be treated without market-based opportunities.” This statement also makes it evident that some Washington forests would be left unlogged without the existence of biomass energy facilities.

Wind River Biomass, a combined heat and power biomass energy facility proposed for Stevenson, Washington, plans to source trees from the nearby Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A biomass gasification project in North Fork, California that would burn trees to create electricity, heat and biochar would also increase logging, including in the Sierra National Forest, according to a May 6, 2015 article in the Sierra Star.

Jim Branham, executive officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of the entities behind the North Fork facility, was quoted as saying that biomass projects such as his are “key to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and protecting our forests and communities from large, damaging wildfires.” Once again, a biomass energy facility is acting as a driver for more “fuel reduction” logging projects.

While some biomass energy facilities spur logging in anticipation of the natural process of wildfire, other facilities trigger logging after a burn. For example, a new biomass facility in Kauai drove the cutting and burning of 15,000 tons of pine and eucalyptus trees in Kokee that wouldn’t have been logged otherwise, according to March 5, 2015 article in the Washington Times.

An April 4, 2015 article in Timberline reported that Watertown, New York-based wood chipping company, Pala Wood Service Company, “had all but stopped chipping [trees] due to a lack of a customer base for that product.” Yet, according to Pala Wood’s owner, Bruce Strough, the recent opening of ReEnergy Black River, a 60-megawatt biomass power facility in Fort Drum, “represented an opportunity to get back into the market.”

As more biomass energy facilities are built across the U.S., including ones in close proximity to National Forests, only time will tell whether we’ll see a resulting uptick in logging proposals, as biomass opponents warn. But, if statements by those working on the ground to advance bioenergy are accurate, more logging specifically to fuel these facilities is probable.  

When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism

- by Kaya Banton, Chester Environmental Justice


My name is Kaya Banton and I have been a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania all of my life.  Chester is a small city right outside of Philadelphia known as one of the worst cases of environmental racism.


There are a number of polluting facilities in and surrounding Chester. The most famous is Covanta, the nation’s largest waste incinerator, burning 3,510 tons of trash per day. Though Covanta is the largest incinerator in the country, they have the fewest pollution controls of any incinerator in the nation. Within a mile of Covanta, 80% of the population is black. Only 1.5% of waste being burned at Covanta comes from Chester. The rest comes from wealthy suburban areas of Delaware County, Philadelphia, and New York.


Covanta is the largest polluter in Chester and one of the largest in all of eastern Pennsylvania.  Due to the pollutants from Covanta and other industries, many people in Chester have cancer, asthma, and other horrific diseases. I know entire families that have asthma or cancer. Both my mother and my little sister developed chronic asthma after moving to Chester. The childhood asthma hospitalization rate in Chester is three times the state average.


With research and organizing support from Energy Justice Network last summer, community members went door to door last year and packed city hall twice, winning a unanimous vote of the planning commission, recommending that city council shoot down plans for the rail box building to receive New York City's steel trash containers. Unfortunately, city council voted in favor of Covanta because they did not want to get sued. Covanta was permitted to bring New York’s trash by rail, which will put them at full capacity. A big concern from the council was the amount of trash trucks coming through the city. Covanta said that since the trash will be coming by rail, the truck traffic will be decreased majorly, but even though residents made it clear that the trash containers will be taken through Chester by train to Wilmington, Delaware then back into Chester by truck. This will not decrease truck traffic, but will only increase pollution by adding train traffic.


I did some research and found out that New York’s zero waste plan is actually a “zero waste to landfill” plan that locked in 20 to 30 years of burning waste in Chester, making the impacts of my city invisible while New York gets the benefit of looking green. I was incredibly confused as to how New York City environmental justice groups could celebrate the announcement of a zero waste plan that allowed waste to be burned in Chester. We give toxic tours of our community upon request for those wanting to see what we experience on a daily basis.  


We invite anyone, especially those from Philadelphia and New York, to contact us for a tour.


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