Wisconsin Governor Wants to Cut $8 Million from Bioenergy Research

- by Thomas Content and Lee Bergquist, February 28, 2015, Journal Sentinel

In an about-face from his first term, Gov. Scott Walker wants to eliminate funding for a University of Wisconsin-Madison renewable energy research center that has played a key role in helping land one of its biggest government grants ever.

In his budget, Walker is proposing to eliminate $8.1 million over two years — a total of 35 positions — from a bioenergy program.

The reductions are separate from his proposal to cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System over the next two years.

The research program, founded in 2009, is charged with developing technologies to convert wood chips, corn stalks and native grasses to homegrown sources of power.

Syracuse City Council Seeks Alternatives to Incineration

- by Tim Knauss, March 2, 2015, Syracuse.com

The city council today voted against a 20-year extension of Syracuse's garbage disposal contract with the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, citing a desire to pursue alternatives to trash incineration.

Syracuse remains obligated under its existing contract to haul waste to OCCRA's trash plant near Jamesville through June 2015, but it's not clear what will happen after that.

Councilor-at-Large Jean Kessner, who led opposition to the contract renewal, said she would like the city to negotiate a five-year deal with OCRRA and pursue alternatives over the long term, such as more extensive recycling.

BLM Plan to Convert Nevada’s Pinyon Forests to Biomass Threatens Ancient Rituals

- by Lisa Gale Garrigues, Indian Country Today Media Network

For centuries the pinyon trees of Nevada have nourished the Shoshone, Paiute and other peoples, giving them pine nuts, ingredients for soup, milk and even a place to pray. Now it is about to become something else: a profitable source of biomass.

The Pinyon-Juniper Partnership, a consortium backed by Senator Harry Reid, D-Nevada, plans to remove pinyon trees in Nevada’s arid Great Basin in a project it hopes will be a model for the western United States. This spring, the partnership will begin using chainsaws, masticators and prescribed burns to thin pinyon and juniper on 300,000 acres in Lincoln and White Pine Counties.

In addition to the economic benefits of the project, the partnership (spearheaded by the Bureau of Land Management [BLM], the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and backed by groups that include Newmont Mining, the Nevada chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Nature Conservancy) also argues that replacing some pinyon in eastern Nevada’s Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest with sagebrush and other vegetation will help prevent dangerous forest fires, allow for more wildlife viewing and hunting, and develop a biomass industry in Nevada that will convert wood chips to fuel and electricity. It already has at least one potential customer: A-Power Energy Generation Systems, a Chinese firm that is planning to build a biomass-generated electrical plant in Lincoln County. (An ironic aside: Despite the abundance of pinyon in the western United States, the pine nuts on U.S. supermarket shelves come, increasingly, from China.)

The plans to reduce pinyon could eventually result in 20 million to 60 million tons of pinyon-juniper biomass. Six million tons of biomass can result from “a really light thinning” of a million acres, says Dusty Mohler, a forester and utilities manager for the partnership.

Local Opposition Affects Oregon Biofuel Plant

- by Al Maiorino, March 3, 2015, Environmental Leader

[Al Maiorino's Public Strategy Group helps corporations, such as energy companies, push back against community grassroots resistance. This article outlines some industry tactics. -Josh]

In 2014, the United States Departments of the Navy, Energy and Agriculture awarded a $70 million grant to Red Rock Biofuels for the design, construction, commissioning and performance testing of a new biofuel refinery.  The biorefinery is planned for Lakeview, Oregon, close to the Fremont Nation Forest and the intersecting state lines of Oregon, Nevada, and California. This new renewable project aims to expand military fuel sources, improve reliability of the nation’s fuel supply and prevent supply disruption to reinforce the nation’s energy security.  Despite these benefits that bring additional employment and revenue benefits for the local community of Lakeview, NIMBY, or “not in my backyard,” opponents to biofuel refineries across the United States run fierce opposition campaigns that threaten project completion.  These campaigns can often result in project delays or even cancellation all together, and despite a properly zoned site.

Two Lake County Commissioners, Brad Winters and Ken Kestner, support the biofuel project and believe that when completed, the project will improve Lakeview’s air quality by creating healthier forests and preventing forest fires. Additionally, Oregon Business wrote an economic report stating that the biofuel plant would create up to “25 direct and 79 to 109 indirect and induced jobs,” resulting in an increase in labor income. However, Commissioner Winters acknowledged the myths promoted by the opposition that take hold by noting that those opposed to the creation of the biorefinery are not basing their concerns and objections on factual information.  Winters emphasized the importance of community members’ attendance at review workshops and hearings in order to become more informed as state and federal agencies evaluate the proposal as a prerequisite for completion.

Despite a successful rezone of the proposed site by the Lake County Planning Board, opponents remain focused on keeping the proposal out of their community. They fear that transporting these biofuels through the Lake County railroad from Lakeview to Alturas could possibly result in derailments with damaging effects on the community. The opposition is highly organized, holding meetings to strategize and planning petition drives to re-open the process for public comment before the County Commissioners. As is the case with some projects, the opposition group is also instigating a recall drive against Lake County Commissioners and Lakeview Town Council members, showing that all land use truly is political in nature.

Meanwhile, supporters are hoping that this project will receive the necessary approvals according to current plans so construction can begin in summer or fall of 2015 for operations to commence by 2016.  Just as the opponents have utilized grassroots tactics to add to their numbers, so too much supporters. To save time and money, companies must engage communities and stakeholders throughout the entire permitting process to ensure that community members are informed and engaged every step. By identifying and mobilizing members of what is often the silent majority, public support can be built throughout Lake County for a quick and successful project approval.

Firing Up Hawaiian Biomass Facility

- by Chris D’Angelo, February 11, 2015, The Garden Island

Green Energy Team, LLC’s $90 million biomass-to-energy facility in Koloa is now hot.

“They lit the boiler and have started making steam,” said Kauai Island Utility Cooperative spokesman Jim Kelly, who is handling press inquiries for GET. “For the next probably three to four weeks, they’re going to basically be pumping steam through it and cleaning out the tubes.”

The company began testing the facility for the first time last week and expects to have it connected to the KIUC grid and producing electricity by April, according to Kelly.

The 6.7-megawatt facility is located near Knudsen Gap and will provide about 11 percent of the island’s electricity — enough to power 8,500 households and replace about 3.7 million gallons of imported oil annually. It is the first closed-loop, biomass-to-energy plant in the United States, and will rely completely on its own sources of Kauai biomass wood chips.

Contaminated Love Canal Soil Going to Nebraska Incinerator

- by Richard Piersol, March 1, 2015, Lincoln Journal Star

About a thousand tons of contaminated soil from the notorious Love Canal environmental disaster in New York is being shipped by rail to Kimball for incineration because the company that is disposing of it ran into objections from Canadians, who didn't want it.

Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, became a symbol for environmental abuse in the late 1970s when it was discovered that 22,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried there by Hooker Chemical Co. and then ignored for decades by local authorities.

Property development, weather and the removal of a heavy clay cap released the toxic waste and allowed it to leach under the town, leading to widespread and severe health consequences, vast litigation and finally, the federal Superfund law. 

U.S. Added 254 Megawatts of Biomass Energy in 2014

- by Erin Voegele, February 6, 2015 Biomass Magazine

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects has released the December edition of its Energy Infrastructure Update, reporting the U.S. added 254 MW of biomass energy capacity last year.

In December, the U.S. added five biomass generating units with a combined capacity of 23 MW. During the full year 2014, the U.S. added 58 biomass generating units with a combined capacity of 254 MW. In 2013, 142 biomass units were added with a combined 858 MW of capacity.

Within its report, the FERC highlighted LES Service LLC’s 6 MW landfill gas-to-energy, which came online in December. The project, known as the Zimmerman Energy Facility, is located in Fulton County, Indiana. Power generated at the facility is sold to Northern Indiana Public Service Co. under a long-term contract.

Exploiting Private Forests for Bioenergy

- by Roy Keene

The debate over a single wood powered electrical generator in Eugene has been myopically focused on just one project and one proposed fuel source. Supporters for Seneca Sawmill Co.’s proposed power plant have yet to publicly mention that slash could be replaced with chipped trees as fuel prices rise, or that this plant could be the first of many as wood-generated electricity becomes more profitable.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “The Eugene-Springfield area is one of the largest wood products processing areas in the world.” This area is also the epicenter for a huge volume of industrially owned forest biomass. With industry’s infrastructure in place and hundreds of thousands of acres in tree plantations, our area is ideally positioned for wood-fueled electrical power generating. Once Seneca has perfected their generating process and shown profits by selling electricity back to the grid, similar proposals and projects can be expected — especially as more federal “green” energy subsidies become available.

What a 20-year Biomass Battle Tells Us About Environmental Justice Policy

- by Brentin Mock, February 24, 2015, Grist

It’s well-established that the Environmental Protection Agency has been quite flaccid when it comes to enforcing civil rights issues. The online news outlet E&E recently took the time to remind us how bad it is last week, reporting from Flint, Mich., where environmental justice complaints about a biomass energy plant built in a low-income, black community have gone ignored since the early 1990s.

“In that corner of Flint, there is just a lot of polluting stuff that’s either in Genesee Township or the northeast side of Flint, and nothing has ever really been done about that,” Rev. Phil Schmitter told E&E reporter Robin Bravender. “The plant is about a mile from an elementary school and a low-income housing complex.”

Back in 1994, environmental justice activists in Flint asked the EPA to block construction of the biomass plant, arguing that low-income African Americans have already suffered enough from the concentration of pollution and poverty in the northeastern quarter. The EPA noted the request, and it’s on the agency’s list of civil rights complaints, filed July 1, 1994 as one of the few cases accepted for investigation. But here we are, over 20 years later, and the situation hasn’t been resolved. The plant has been up and running since 1995, burning wood to energy to its merry delight.

Now, the EPA’s lack of action on civil rights enforcement deserves scrutiny, even as the agency has taken steps like creating Plan EJ 2014, a detailed proposal for correcting this problem. And certainly there are cumulative impact questions that need to be answered in Flint. But as much as anything, the story of the Flint biomass plant reveals just how complicated these issues can be.

One Bin for All?

- by Melanie Scruggs, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Right now, the City of Houston is expanding its two-bin or “single-stream” recycling program to finally cover all the nearly 350,000 homes that it services. As an avid zero waster, you may be thinking two things: 1. It is fantastic that Houstonians finally have access to a curbside recycling program; and 2. It’s quite embarrassing that the nation’s fourth largest city took so long to extend curbside recycling city-wide. Those two thoughts are both true, but unfortunately Houston is considering trashing the progress it has made by investing in a boondoggle project that would eliminate real recycling altogether.

The proposal known as “One Bin for All” is a misguided plan designed to eliminate curbside recycling and direct all residents to go back to putting both trash and recyclable materials in the same bin—hence the name—which would then be sent to a new waste facility known as a “dirty MRF”(Materials Recovery Facility) where the recyclable materials would supposedly be separated out after the fact. This plan has met stiff resistance locally and across the nation for the past two years, and rightfully so—it’s a terrible idea, and not a new one either. Dallas and Austin officials have considered this proposal and rejected it within the past three years.

In Houston, however, the technology has been hailed as the “next revolution of recycling.” Mixed signals are coming from officials in the Mayor’s Office about whether or not they actually plan to invest in the program, especially considering the recent and significant investment in source separated recycling. Still, the official plan under consideration is to give everyone in the city a curbside recycling bin, then take away their old garbage bins and tell residents to put all their trash and recyclable materials together in their nice, big, green recycling bin. Presto, now it’s all getting recycled thanks to the magic of “One Bin for All!” But not really—in the real world, similar programs have been shown to send most of the mixed-together materials straight to a landfill or incinerator.

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