Study: Biofuel Crops Replacing Grasslands, Contributing to CO2 Emissions

- April 4, 2015, Grand Island Independent

oglala national grasslandsA new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers show that crops, including the corn and soybeans used for biofuels, expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of acres of grasslands.

The study — from UW-Madison graduate student Tyler Lark, geography professor Holly Gibbs and postdoctoral researcher Meghan Salmon — addresses the debate over whether the recent boom in demand for common biofuel crops has led to the carbon-emitting conversion of natural areas. It also reveals loopholes in U.S. policies that may contribute to these unintended consequences.

 “We realized there was remarkably limited information about how croplands have expanded across the United States in recent years,” said Lark, the lead author of the study. “Our results are surprising because they show large-scale conversion of new landscapes, which most people didn’t expect.”

The conversion to corn and soybeans alone, the researchers say, could have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year — the equivalent of 28 million more cars on the road.

Fire at Biomass Power Facility in Thailand

- April 8, 2015, Bangkok Post

krabi thailand biomass power facilityA biomass power plant with large piles of palm kernel shells used for fuel caught fire in Khao Phanom district of Krabi early Wednesday morning, and damage was estimated at 100 million baht. 

The fire at Saraff Energies Co started about 1.30am. The plant was temporarily closed for maintenance. 

It first emerged at a grinder and then burnt a conveyor belt and spread to hundreds of tonnes of stored palm kernel shells used as fuel at the biomass power plant on Nua Khlong-Chai Buri Road.

More than 10 fire engines and crews from four sub-districts battled the blaze, which took more than four hours to control. The fire destroyed the steel warehouse where palm kernel shells were stored over an area of about two rai. The fire extinguishing system at the plant was out of service at the time.

Two Myanmar workers were injured. One suffered burns and the other cut his leg escaping from the plant.

The power plant is part of the very small power producer (VSPP) programme and receives government support. It normally generates about 10 megawatts of electricity and sells the power to the Provincial Electricity Authority.

Police said damage was put at 100 million baht. 

Boardman, Oregon Coal Plant Mulls Biomass

- by George Plaven, April 6, 2015, EO Media Group

boardman coal plant in oregonAs a potential source of renewable energy, giant cane could be the answer to saving Portland General Electric’s coal-fired power plant in Boardman long after the facility quits using coal by 2020.

On the other hand, as an invasive species, giant cane could spread wild across the Columbia Basin, choking out native vegetation and undoing years of work by local tribes to restore river habitat.

A proposed bill in Salem attempts to strike a balance between the competing environmental interests. House Bill 2183 would require farmers who grow giant cane for biomass or other commercial uses to post a $1 million surety bond with the Oregon Invasive Species Council. The money would pay for costly eradication efforts, should the crop escape from the field.

Top Five Biomass Boosters in the U.S. Senate

[Five U.S. Senators are leading the push to spend more taxpayer dollars subsidizing biomass energy. Can you guess who they are? The answer might surprise you… -Josh]

- by Erin Voegele, April 3, 2015, Biomass Magazine

US SenateA group of five senators recently sent a letter to two subcommittees of the Senate Committee on Appropriations asking them to support funding for programs that bolster the development of thermal and electric biomass energy technologies, supply chains and market opportunities. The letter was signed by Sens. Ron. Wyden, D-Ore.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Angus King, I-Maine; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

The letter is addressed to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chair of the Subcommittee on the Development of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Tom Udall, D-N.M., ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

Bill to Subsidize California Biomass Facilities

- by John Cox, April 6, 2015, Bakersfield Californian

kern biomass californiaLocal farmers are adding their support to legislation that would divert revenue from California’s cap-and-trade program to biomass plants that generate power by burning agricultural and urban green waste.

Last month the Kern County Farm Bureau co-hosted a meeting in Delano to raise awareness of Assembly Bill 590 and help an industry the group called “very important” to local growers, in that biomass plants take trimmings and old trees that would otherwise be more expensive for farmers to dispose of.

AB 590, co-authored by Assemblymen Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, and Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, is making its way through the state capitol at a time when California’s biomass industry says it is having a hard time competing with cheaper sources of electrical power, including solar panels and natural gas.

Public Weighs in on Plumas County, CA Biomass Proposal

- by Debra Moore, April 5, 2015, Plumas County News

california biomass energy facilitiesThe Sierra Institute is poised to receive $2.6 million from the California Energy Commission, but first the public will have a chance to comment on the biomass boiler that would be built near the county’s health and human services building in Quincy.

The commission announced March 10 that it had awarded $2.6 million to the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment after ranking it No. 2 out of the nearly two dozen proposals received.

Jonathan Kusel, the executive director of the institute, said he was thrilled when he heard the news. Likewise, Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson, and Dony Sawchuk, the county’s facility’s director, expressed their appreciation that the county would benefit from the award. The construction would provide jobs; the forests would be rendered healthier; and the power and heat generated would be more economical.

A small biomass boiler, the first of its type in the state, would provide heat for the college dorms and power and heat for the health and human services building.

But not everyone supports the project. Graeagle resident Mark Mihevc has repeatedly spoken out at Board of Supervisors’ meetings about his aversion to biomass technology. Mihevc prefers a compost approach to biomass and opposes mechanical thinning of forests to provide fuel to produce energy.

During the Feb. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, when the supervisors were discussing a similar biomass plant for Eastern Plumas Health Care, Mihevc objected to biomass boilers at all proposed locations, which he described as “massive industrial thinning that will kill the forest.” Mihevc said that fire is nature’s path to forest health.

Company to Burn Biomass in Escanaba, Michigan Coal-Fired Plant

- by Jenny Lancour, April 3, 2015, Escanaba Daily Press

Escanaba, Michigan coal plantAnyone wanting to express comments on a company's recent proposal to buy Escanaba's power plant can attend a public hearing next week at city hall, according to city officials.

A public hearing on a purchase proposal submitted by Sterling Energy Group, Inc. will be held during the joint meeting of council and the Electrical Advisory Committee beginning at 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday in council chambers.

Sterling Energy has offered to buy the coal-fueled power plant and equipment for $250,000 and plans to invest additional funds into the property to convert the facility to burn biomass.

The plant has been for sale for several years because it is less costly for the city to buy power compared to generating energy by burning coal. Escanaba has been buying power from a supplier for more than three years.

Council announced SEG's proposal last month but took no action pending next week's public hearing allowing citizen input on the matter.

SEG - headquartered in Gary, Ind. - buys coal-fired plants which no longer have a useful life and retrofits them into biomass-fueled facilities.

Reject the Exelon Takeover of Pepco

Energy Justice Network testified in D.C. against Exelon energy corporation's takeover of Pepco, electric service provider to Washington, D.C. and Maryland. 
nuclear plantThis takeover is a bad deal for the District of Columbia and is not in the public interest. It would hit DC ratepayers with higher electricity bills, would undermine renewable energy and would not provide reliable power.
Exelon is the nation's largest nuclear utility, with 23 of the nation's 99 remaining nuclear reactors. 81% of Exelon's electricity output in 2013 came from these 23 reactors. Two-thirds of them (15 of the 23) are in a list of reactors that are "at risk" of early retirement. Five of these "at risk" Exelon reactors have enough of these problems in combination that they're said to "face particularly intense challenges." The costs to keep unprofitable plants running means huge rate hikes for ratepayers. The costs of their closure are even more alarming, due to both the need for replacement power as well as the astronomical costs of reactor decommissioning.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that the cost of decommissioning ranges from $300 million to $400 million per reactor. Union of Concerned Scientists and the Nuclear Energy Institute both estimate that the average reactor unit now costs about $500 million to decommission. Actual decommissioning costs in recent years have exceeded $1 billion per reactor, as evidenced by the over $1 billion price tag for decommissioning Exelon's Zion reactor in Illinois and the $1.2 billion price tag for decommissioning the Vermont Yankee reactor. The 2-unit San Onofre reactor site in California, closed for good in 2013, has an estimated decommissioning price tag of $4.4 billion.
Nuclear reactors are NOT reliable. A reactor closed down temporarily for repairs, or permanently due to costs or unresolvable safety issues requires significant replacement power. Nuclear reactors also cannot take the heat. In the hottest summer days, when demand is highest due to air conditioner use, nuclear reactors increasingly have to curtail power or close temporarily, as they cannot legally discharge their heated cooling water that they cannot adequately cool.
Exelon is hostile to renewable energy, despite some minor investments. In Maryland, they're starting to push for nuclear power to be included in state Renewable Portfolio Standards, which would decimate the market for wind power as existing nuclear facilities can name their price and undermine new wind and solar development.
Nuclear power is not environmentally sound. To produce the same amount of energy as coal, it lays waste to more land with uranium mining. It consumes extensive amounts of fossil fuels to mine, mill, convert, enrich and fabricate nuclear reactor fuel, and transport long ways around the country between each of these steps, before the fuel even reaches the reactor. Extensive radioactive and chemical pollution contaminates communities each step of the way, including in nuclear reactor communities, where radioactive air and water releases are routine and legal, not to mention illegal releases from spills. 
For more info, see

Biofuels Gain Traction at Minnesota Legislature

- by Jon Collins, March 31, 2015, Minnesota Public Radio

alfalfa grass biofuelsA bill to create a $5 million tax credit to advance the development of the biofuel industry in Minnesota is gaining traction at the state Legislature.

Newer technologies allow the use of plants like native prairie grasses or alfalfa for conversion ethanol.

The so-called advanced biofuel tax credit was initially opposed by environmentalists because the most common ingredient, corn, can be very polluting.

"It's a summer annual that is in the summer actively soaking up water and fertilizers, but in the spring or in the fall the land is basically bare, and that's when we get the heavy pollution," said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

But environmentalists were won over by a compromise that requires that any new biofuel plants with state support include at least 50 percent perennials like alfalfa in the biofuel feedstock within five years. Morse said perennials lead to less runoff and pollution than corn production.

Plainfield, Connecticut Biomass Facility Changes Hands Again

- by Brian Dowling, March 25, 2015, Hartford Courant

plainfield connecticut biomass facility greenleaf

Leidos Inc. is selling its Plainfield wood-fired power plant to Greenleaf Power, a Sacramento company that is buying biomass plants across North America.

Greenleaf Power announced Wednesday it has agreed to buy the 37.5-megawatt power plant in a deal it expects to close later this year.

The company bought four California biomass plants in 2010 and 2011 and a Canadian plant in 2013. In a statement, Greenleaf President Hugh Smith said, "Plainfield solidifies Greenleaf Power's presence throughout North America as the leading owner-operator of biomass power facilities."


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