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The Biomass Monitor

As of April 1, 2016, The Biomass Monitor is no longer affiliated with Energy Justice Network.

You can find the new website at thebiomassmonitor.org

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Biomass Monitor Blog

Waste Done Right

- by Ruth Tyson, Energy Justice Network
 
In 2012, Americans disposed of 251 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Story of Stuff Project neatly lays out the way materials move through our economy from extraction to production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Most consumers don’t think beyond the “consumption” step. Once the undesirable mess is tossed from households, it might be considered “out of sight, out of mind” as long as it’s not seen or smelled. But where does it all go? Where should it all go? 
 
With the finite space for landfills running out, discovering ways to deal with our waste problem is imperative. The “waste-to-energy” (WTE) industry would like to persuade the public that their experimental technologies are the answer. However, such technologies actually cause more problems than they solve. WTE incinerators are the most expensive way to both manage waste and to create energy. While WTE reduces a large volume of waste, there will always be a toxic byproduct of ash that must be disposed of in a lined landfill so that it doesn’t contaminate our ecosystems. 
 

Families Get $4 Million For Fracking Water Contamination

In March, a federal jury awarded a total of $4.2 million to two families from Dimock, Pennsylvania whose drinking water wells have been contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas when drilling for natural gas. 
 
"It's been a battle," said plaintiff Scott Ely, co-plaintiff with Ray Hubert, in a lawsuit against Cabot filed in 2009. "You're up against a multi multi multi million dollar company. We are the lucky ones in the case, but there are still many more families in the Dimock area who are still without the benefit of clean water.” 
 
“This is a huge victory for Dimock families who have been fighting for clean water for over six years," said Alex Lotorto, Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network. "Finally justice has been served."
 

Constitution Pipeline Permit Denied

- April 22, 2016, Energy Justice Network
 
On April 22, the New York Department of Conservation refused to issue a water quality permit for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124 mile pipeline that would've carried natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania to New York State.
 
Accompanied by heavily armed U.S. Marshals wearing bulletproof vests, a Constitution Pipeline crew began cutting down the Holleran family’s sugar maple stand on March 1. North Harford Maple is a family business owned by Cathy Holleran that produces maple sap and syrup. Cutting was completed on March 4.
 

How To Reduce Premature Deaths Linked to Environmental Risks

[Phasing out combustion-based energy such as fossil fuels and biomass energy can save lives]
 
– by Nancy C. Loeb and Juliet S. Sorensen, April 8, 2016, Truthout
 
Millions of deaths around the world are preventable every year without any additional spending on research for treatment. And the cause has nothing to do with gun violence or war.
 

Baltimore Incinerator Proposal Permit Yanked

On March 17, the permit for the Energy Answers trash incinerator planned for the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland was declared invalid by the Maryland Department of the Environment, capping years of protest from local residents and a student-led organization, Free Your Voice, part of United Workers.

Maine Towns Vote Whether to Burn Trash or Make Biogas

Actually, there's a third (and better) option and it's called Zero Waste.
 
- by Andy O'Brien, April 7, 2016, The Free Press
 
On March 31, 2018, it will no longer be economical for midcoast towns to send their household trash to the  Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) incinerator in Orrington. That’s the date when the facility loses a lucrative energy contract to sell its electricity at above market rates. With PERC out of the picture, two nonprofits are bitterly competing for thousands of tons of midcoast waste. 
 
In one corner is the Municipal Review Committee, a municipal cooperative serving PERC’s 187 user communities and governed by representatives of its member towns. After determining that PERC was too expensive to continue running, the MRC developed a proposal with Maryland-based fiber-to-fuel company Fiberight and waste-to-energy giant Covanta to build a $67 million waste-to-biogas processing plant in Hampden. Fiberight claims it will be able to convert 100 percent of the organic material in the waste stream into compressed natural gas by using an anaerobic digestion process. In order to secure financing for the project, it needs a commitment from at least 80 percent of PERC’s user municipalities. 
 
In the other corner is Ecomaine, a municipally owned nonprofit that operates a waste-to-electricity trash incinerator in Portland. MRC would charge a $65-per-ton disposal fee and  Ecomaine would charge $70.50 per ton. But unlike Ecomaine, MRC offers its communities ownership benefits that would give member towns energy rebates from the biogas it would sell in future years. With Ecomaine, midcoast towns would only be contracted customers. 
 

Energy Information Administration: Trash Incineration About Disposal, Not Energy

The federal government's U.S. Energy Information Adminstration puts to rest the idea that "waste-to-energy" facilities exist to create electricity, instead admitting that their main function is to dispose of trash, with electricity as a byproduct.
 
 
At the end of 2015, the United States had 71 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that generated electricity in 20 U.S. states, with a total generating capacity of 2.3 gigawatts. Florida contains more than one-fifth of the nation's WTE electricity generation capacity, and in 2015, Florida's Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility Number 2 became the first new WTE plant to come online since 1995 and the largest single WTE electricity generator in the United States.
 

How To Fight a Pipeline

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
 
Energy Justice Network is on the cutting edge of fighting fracking and related infrastructure in the northeast.
 
It's a special organizing challenge to fight pipelines, as we're fighting a line, not a point, on the map. Companies and agencies won't release data listing all impacted landowners. In Pennsylvania, we have enhanced our outreach by using GIS to overlay company pipeline maps with 911 emergency addresses obtained from each county, allowing us to identify impacted landowners.
 
Along the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in northeast Pennsylvania, we used this information to mass-mail and go door-to-door to over 200 landowners in three counties to inform them of their rights and build a landowner coalition that meets quarterly.
 
Our goal for landowner organizing is to have them each deny survey permission to the company (Williams Partners LLC) so that permit filing can't be completed. Then, we intend to support landowners through eminent domain proceedings by providing referrals to vetted attorneys and appraisers.
 
Media strategy is just as important and we have had a number of human interest stories published in local and national news about compelling cases where landowners are standing up against Williams and other companies.
 
In Pike and Northampton Counties, we appealed the PA Department of Environmental Protection's air permits for twin compressor stations meant to pressurize the Columbia Pipeline 1278 line that transports gas to the proposed Cove Point LNG export terminal. Both compressors emit the equivalent of a fleet of idling diesel school buses, making the local air quality especially dangerous for children's developing lungs.
 
During the compressor appeals, Columbia Pipeline motioned to dismiss our case and Governor Tom Wolf's attorneys agreed. However, the judge dismissed their motion and is allowing us to proceed with our arguments regarding best available control technologies, health impacts, local zoning approval, and other important considerations.
 
Most urgently, we're leading the cutting edge battle against the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline, a project of Williams and Cabot Oil & Gas, which is proposed to carry fracked gas from Susquehanna County, PA to Albany, NY and beyond.
 
On January 29, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitted tree cutting to begin in Pennsylvania that must be finished by March 31 to comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Endangered Species Act as enforced by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
 
We have landowners across Susquehanna County who have given our volunteers and staff permission to monitor the pipeline clearing for violations. On one property, where a sugar maple farm is producing syrup this season, we have set up a picket line where we've turned away tree crews for 16 days straight.
 
The picket at North Harford Maple has drawn both the attention of national media organizations like NPR and the Associated Press and legal action in federal court by the company. We're pledging to stick to it for the long haul so stay tuned for more updates!

Report: Climate Consequences from Logging Forests for Bioenergy

- 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. The report references several studies debunking “carbon neutral” bioenergy, including Timothy Searchinger’s Princeton study, Bjart Holtsmark’s Norway study, and Massachusetts’ Manomet study.

Simpson critiques the Manomet study, which debunks carbon neutrality over the short term, as underestimating carbon impacts in its assumption that logged forests will be left to regrow and re-sequester carbon indefinitely. He explains that Manomet doesn’t account for future logging or a loss of forest productivity due to logging impacts or climate change.

The report asserts that, if this emerging climate science is accurate, “we may be misleading ourselves as to the actual carbon” benefits of bioenergy. Since renewable energy policies for the Maritime Provinces don’t take these studies into account, government may be “undermining efforts to reduce carbon emissions due to faulty accounting.”

Bioenergy has spurred a 20% increase in logging New Brunswick’s Crown (public) forests, and Nova Scotia logging has increased 14% overall. Currently, there is “little regulatory oversight” for bioenergy logging in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, including “whole-tree harvesting and near-complete removal of living and dead material from sites...”

No specific regulations for biomass logging exist in Nova Scotia, aside from forestry regulations requiring ten trees be left per hectare (~2.5 acres) along with streamside buffers.

In 2011, the Nova Scotia Department of Energy set a cap of 350,000 dry tons (700,000 green tons) worth of standing trees to be cut for bioenergy to qualify under Renewable Electricity Regulations.

Nova Scotia Power Inc.’s (NSPI) 60 megawatt biopower facility is estimated to burn 705,000 dry tons of wood per year, at least 385,000 tons coming from whole trees, the rest from sawmill “residue.”

The report references news coverage of hardwood product manufacturers blaming the NSPI facility for  “either going out of business or reducing output due to a shortage of hardwood supply.”

New Brunswick’s Renewable Resources Regulation requires 40% of electricity sales from its public power utility, NB Power, to be generated from “renewable” sources, including bioenergy, though no regulations exist for biomass logging.

Nova Scotia’s 2010 Renewable Electricity Regulations call for 40% of energy from “renewable” sources by 2020, while a feed-in tariff program provides tax incentives for combined-heat and power biomass facilities.

Prince Edward Island’s goals for 2010 included 15% of energy from renewables, including bioenergy. Bioenergy is currently 10% of PEI’s total energy use, made up almost entirely from residential wood heating and one district heating facility in Charlottetown.

Prince Edward Island isn’t currently considering biomass power and only regulates biomass logging if it receives public subsidies. In that case, whole-tree logging cannot occur along with clearcutting (unless converting  lands to non forest use), but is allowed with selective logging.

Bioenergy Wrecks the Climate

– by Ellen Moyer, December 2, 2015, Huffington Post

2015-12-01-1448992396-2683166-NorthCarolinaDogwoodAlliance-thumb

Massive logging operations underway in North Carolina (Photo: Dogwood Alliance)

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”). According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global subsidies of fossil fuel use this year total an astronomical $5.3 trillion. The IMF estimates that eliminating subsidies would reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent, reduce premature deaths from air pollution by 50 percent, and increase social welfare–from reduced environmental damage and higher revenue–by $1.8 trillion. Governments also heavily subsidize biopowerbiofuels, and other bioenergy technologies.

In this discussion, biomass energy, or “bioenergy,” refers to the use of energy primarily generated from plants and plant-derived materials. “Biopower” refers to electricity generated from the burning of biomass. “Biofuel” refers to liquid fuel such as corn ethanol (the primary biofuel in the U.S.) and biodiesel made from algae, animal fat, grasses, municipal solid waste, sugars, palm oil, vegetable oil, and wood. This article excludes other types of bioenergy–such as methane collected from landfills and wood burned for heat–and focuses on biopower fueled by wood and ethanol made from corn.