Photos Show Whole Trees Burned for Biomass Power

Photos Show Whole Trees Burned for Biomass Power

New evidence has emerged once again proving that biomass power incinerators burn whole trees—not just wood “residues”—for fuel. The photographs below (taken in December 2012) show thousands of trees stacked and awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, a 14-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Sullivan County, New Hampshire. Click here for more photos.

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Biomass Power Association’s Bob Cleaves said in a June 2010 article in Power-Gen Worldwide that his organization is “not aware of any facilities that use whole trees for energy and that it is not an economically sustainable approach to biomass as the cost of cutting down one tree outweighs the potential energy benefits.” Yet as consumer demand for lumber in a collapsed housing market remains stagnant, the timber industry has been liquidating forests for biomass energy. 

Past documentation of the use of whole trees for biomass power incinerators has included photos taken at the McNeil Generating Station, a 50-megawatt biomass incinerator in Burlington, Vermont and at McNeil’s railcar loading site in Swanton, Vermont [below].

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While currently the majority of wood fueling biomass power incinerators such as Hemphill and McNeil comes from tree tops and limbs, also known as wood “residues”—which contain the highest nutrient content in the tree and are an essential component of forest soils—an increase in biomass power incinerator proposals in the US and Europe (which intends to source much of its wood from the US) means competition for a limited fuel source and an increase in burning whole trees.

“The idea that we can provide enough ‘waste and residue’ from forestry operations to fuel these electric utilities is pure bunk,” said Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch, based in the US and UK. “They require thousands, even millions of tons per year depending on capacity. In Europe, huge coal plant conversion plans are underway and whole trees are being pelletized and shipped across the Atlantic to be burned there.”

“The sheer volume—current plans in UK alone will require over 63 million tonnes of pellets per year—can only be met by using whole trees,” said Smolker. “When we see and photograph whole trees going into these facilities we know the claims are false. When we see piles of woodchips and pellets there’s a very good chance those were once whole trees as well.”

The Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), the fifth largest producer of containerboard and corrugated products in US, concerned about a 50-megawatt Rothschild, Wisconsin biomass power proposal (currently under construction) warned: “It would seem that the simplest and perhaps only alternative for [the biomass developer] is to procure pulpwood to be chipped as fuel. This obviously will raise the cost not only of pulpwood but also of biomass across the region.”

PCA also cautioned that “the scale of operations may also result in unforeseen forest management impacts, e.g., clearcutting of northern hardwood stands for whole tree chips.” 

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