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EPA to Revise Particulate Matter Standards

- by Rachel Smolker

Medical professionals agree that particulates—especially the smaller ones that can enter deep into the lungs—are harmful to human health, so much so that there is, in fact, no “safe level” of exposure. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with setting a level for particulate emissions from biomass and other power plants—as if some number of illnesses and deaths is “acceptable.”

The agency is now considering public comments on their proposed (and long overdue) revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulates. EPA is required to review these standards every 5 years—but the last time they were reviewed in 2006, the agency ended up in a court battle that kicked back any toughening of standards for fine particulates. The current process is a response to that history. And as the years tick by, hundreds of thousands of people suffer the consequences and costs of particulate-related diseases, including cardiopulmonary diseases, strokes, asthma, and premature births. 

Biomass Opponents Silenced by North Carolina Commission

Residents of six counties in North and South Carolina facing massive chicken and pig-manure burning biomass power incinerators, including a man dressed as a chicken [pictured below], were barred from giving testimony at a North Carolina Utilities Commission hearing over biomass electricity requirements on August 28 in Raleigh.

The hearing was in response to a request by Duke Energy, Progress Energy, Dominion Power and others to hold off on the requirement that they provide a certain percentage of North Carolina’s electricity from poultry and pig feces, as had been mandated by the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in 2007. Technical and financial issues have made it impossible for the companies to provide the required 170,000 megawatt hours from poultry waste in 2012.

Biomass Incinerator Looms on Horizon for Gypsum, Colorado

An 11.5 megawatt biomass power incinerator proposal for the 6,400 person central-Colorado town of Gypsum is moving along swiftly, despite concerns of community members and at least one town councilor.

Utah-based Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC’s facility would burn 70,000 bone-dry tons per year of wood chips from whole trees—living and beetle-killed—tree branches and limbs, and “urban wood waste from a local landfill,” requiring 1,200 acres of forest per year sourced within a fifty to seventy-five mile radius. Gypsum is surrounded by the White River National Forest [pictured below]. 

The biomass facility is scheduled to go online by the end of 2013 and would sell ten megawatts to Holy Cross Energy, which provides power for the ski resort towns of Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs.  

Gainesville, FL Ratepayers Demand Biomass Refund

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of Gainesville City Hall on August 2 to demand that Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) repay $15 million to ratepayers—$194 per household—for high electric rates associated with the construction of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass incinerator scheduled to go online in 2013. Protesters accused the utility of overcharging ratepayers to cover future costs of acquiring wood for the incinerator, despite a decrease in the utility’s current fuel costs.

One protester, registered nurse and Gainesville resident Debbie Martinez [pictured above], also asked the Alachua County Commission on August 14 to request that the City of Gainesville and GRU “return the two years in electricity overcharges to GRU customers” and to cease the overcharging. “$15 million dollars in overcharges is approximately $194 for every family, many who are struggling to put food on the table and provide medicine for their loved ones,” said Martinez. 

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including Biomass Incinerators

Baby back ribs aren’t the only things being cooked in Texas nowadays. With the Nacogdoches Generating Facility firing up for the first time in July—at 100 megawatts, it’s one of the largest biomass power incinerators in the U.S.—Texas will also be cooking a heck of a lot of trees. At least one million green tons of wood per year, to be sourced from whole trees, tree tops, limbs and sawmill residues within a 75-mile radius of Sacul, Texas, according to a fact sheet from owner and operator Southern Power

Southern Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, purchased the yet-to-be-constructed facility from American Renewables in 2009. Southern Company also owns electric utilities in four states, including coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants, along with “the nation's second largest solar photovoltaic plant,” in partnership with CNN founder Ted Turner, according to a company press release

Report: Carbon Neutral Biomass a Scam

A new report by Spain-based Carbon Trade Watch critiques plans by the United Kingdom government and European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to ramp up industrial-scale biomass energy production under the guise of “carbon neutrality,” despite its massive greenhouse gas emissions and threats to public health and global biodiversity. An estimated 80 to 300 million tons of wood would be required to fuel the planned expansion of bioenergy incineration in the UK, much of which would be sourced outside the country, including from the United States and the global South.

Poultry Power Poops Out in North Carolina

(Source: Mary Anderson, Courier-Tribune)

A 36 megawatt biomass incinerator that would have burned poultry feces is no longer being considered for Biscoe, North Carolina, to the relief of Montgomery and Moore County residents and grassroots community groups, such as Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), which opposed the project.

The developer, Poultry Power, a subsidiary of the Florida-based Green Frontier, cited the costs of hauling manure to the facility as the major impediment to construction and claimed to be looking at sites closer to their sources.

“Residents have been spared decreased air quality, increased odor, increases in spills and heavy truck traffic,” said Therese Vick of BREDL. As with the burning of any form of “biomass,” conventional air pollutants released from poultry manure incinerators include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, generally at higher levels than coal burning power plants. 

Nurse Speaks Out on Biomass Health Threats

- by Debbie Martinez, RN, Gainesville, Florida

As a registered nurse I find it alarming that Alachua County’s huge medical community has remained silent on dangerous smokestack emissions as more research now demonstrates that air pollution from the city’s planned biomass incinerator will pose a significant health risk to adults, children and the unborn within a 200 mile radius of GRU’s Deerhaven site.

On April 4, pediatrician Bill Sammons came to Gainesville to present growing data that describes how tiny nano-particles of numerous toxic incinerator emissions can travel through the lungs, into the bloodstream and lodge in vital organs — including the brain. The consequence of breathing these particulates is increased incidence of heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders like autism.

Go to the Facebook group page Gainesville Biomass Plant Issues to hear Dr. Sammons’ interview and find out more.

Florida Trash Incinerator Proposal Bites the Dust

(Source: Laurie K. Blandford and Anthony Westbury, TC Palm)

A trash incinerator proposal for St. Lucie, Florida has fallen through following a unanimous decision by the St. Lucie County Commissioners to terminate the contract with Georgia-based Geoplasma, citing economic concerns. The 24 megawatt incinerator would’ve incinerated 600 tons of trash per day using a technology called plasma arc, which turns garbage into a gas and slag, a solid waste byproduct.

“Fortunately, the health of St. Lucie County residents will not be jeopardized since the incinerator won’t be built,” said Dr. Ron Saff, an asthma specialist based in Tallahassee, who had opposed the facility along with other area medical professionals. Saff offers his thanks to “the local medical community…who took a bold stand in St. Lucie County against the incinerator. This certainly helped win the battle.”

County Commissioners are now in negotations with New Jersey based incinerator developer, Covanta Energy Corporation, to build a thermal conversion facility at the county landfill to process municipal solid waste.

Are Massachusetts’ New Biomass Regulations Strong Enough?

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources finally released its long awaited and much delayed biomass regulations, garnering both cautious praise and criticism from grassroots biomass opponents. The regulations have disqualified stand-alone biomass power facilities from receiving Renewable Energy Certificates—a ratepayer subsidy under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard—though incentives are still available for combined heat and power facilities operating at 50% efficiency, that burn whole trees along with logging “residues.”

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