October issue of The Biomass Monitor | Biomass Energy: Another Kind of Climate Change Denial

Coming right at ya: the October issue of The Biomass Monitor, the nation's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy.

Inside this issue - Biomass Energy: Another Kind of Climate Change Denial

-"Another Kind of Climate Change Denial”

-"Virginia Incinerator Not Financially Beneficial”

-"Allentown, PA Terminates Contract for Waste Incinerator”

...and more!

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Biomass Energy: Another Kind of Climate Change Denial

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor (Graphic: Indiana Joel)

We’re all familiar with climate change deniers, cheerfully and/or willfully ignorant folk who refuse to accept that human-caused carbon emissions are responsible for the climate crisis — or that there even is a climate crisis. Those of us who value science and common sense typically have as much patience for these twenty-three percent of Americans as we do for anyone who believes that maggots arise spontaneously from rotting meat, witches cause disease, or the Earth is the center of the universe.  

Recently, a subtler breed of climate change denier has emerged, spreading their propaganda and even infiltrating aspects of the environmental movement: biomass boosters. These advocates for the biomass energy industry often avoid detection by professing concern with carbon emissions. Yet, while cursing fossil fuels out of one side of their mouths, out of the other they bless the burning of one of the world’s greatest buffers against runaway climate chaos — our forests — for energy.

If the climate movement wants to win over the American people and influence policy, it needs to have credibility, which only comes through consistency, and that means distancing itself from the climate change deniers in our midst.

Forests = Carbon

Forests store and sequester mind-boggling amounts of carbon and are one of our last best hopes in fighting climate change. Cutting forests and burning them for energy in polluting biomass incinerators is perhaps the worst thing we can do when it comes to the climate threat.

Biomass incinerators emit higher levels of carbon dioxide per unit of energy than most coal-fired plants, the dirtiest fossil fuel, with some studies demonstrating up to a centuries-long time frame for the reabsorption of this carbon by future forests, and others showing a permanent increase in atmospheric CO2. Some of the more optimistic (and flawed) studies show it will still take decades for the carbon to be reabsorbed by forests cut for biomass energy. Yet, this assumes a forest cut for biomass will be protected and not logged again (a highly unlikely scenario), and will maintain the same rate of growth despite soil compaction, nutrient depletion, and erosion from past logging and impacts from climate change, including drought.

Even if that best case scenario were true, it’s irrelevant. Climate scientists insist the only way to reverse runaway climate change is to drastically cut our emissions now, not at some undetermined point in the future after emitting a massive pulse of carbon out the smokestacks of biomass incinerators.

Only when you bring up this point to biomass boosters do they reveal their true colors, proving that, despite pretensions, they really aren’t taking climate change that seriously at all.

Magic Tree Carbon

When pressed on the reality of curbing emissions today rather than in the year 2114, biomass advocates typically admit that carbon emissions from biomass incineration don’t count because they don’t come from the bad kind of fossil fuel carbon, but the good kind of “biogenic” carbon. In other words, you can cut and burn all the trees you want for energy, because the carbon they emit is harmless, basically a kind of magic tree carbon.

Of course, an eighth grade grasp of Earth science proves that the atmosphere doesn’t give a fig whether the carbon comes from trees, fossil fuels, or unicorn poop, because carbon is carbon is carbon.  

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been spending the last few years deciding how to measure carbon emissions from biomass energy (even though the only honest way to account for it is to tabulate what comes out of the smokestack), with vague plans to come out with its accounting framework for “biogenic” carbon by the end of 2014. The agency’s willingness to even entertain industry’s notion of magic tree carbon exposes the EPA for what it truly is: a political, rather than scientific body. The Obama administration has come out in support of biomass energy, chopping down the low-hanging fruit of “green” energy to make it seem like it’s actually doing something about the climate crisis.

One final point to bring up if you’re ever in a conversation with a biomass booster and really want to watch them squirm. Remind them that the supposedly “biogenic” carbon stored in any given tree actually includes some carbon sequestered from hundreds of years of burning fossil fuels, and when that tree is burned for energy, that carbon too is released back into the atmosphere. If they have a response to this, please contact me and let me know what it is, because I’ve yet to hear one.

Of course, chances are, no matter how much you question biomass boosters on carbon emissions, you won’t get any good answers out of them. Maybe that’s because most of them secretly believe — though they’ll never admit it, perhaps not even to themselves — that climate change simply isn’t that big of a deal.   

Josh Schlossberg is editor of The Biomass Monitor. You can contact him at thebiomassmonitor AT gmail.com

Proposed Plant to Export Wood Pellets to Asia

- September 25, 2014, Biomass Magazine

A proposed pellet plant under development near Mission, British Columbia, aims to produce wood pellets for export into industrial markets in South Korea and other Asian markets. The project is being developed by SMG Wood Pellet Inc., a subsidiary of Vancouver, British Columbia-based SMG Asset. The facility will be branded under the name Mission Wood Pellet.

Paul Adams, operations manager for SMG Wood Pellet, said engineering work on the facility is nearing completion, while fiber supply agreements and offtake agreements are in place. The company is in the process of securing necessary permits.

SMG plans to break ground on the project early next year with operations beginning in the second or third quarter. Once complete, the facility will have an installed capacity of 160,000 tons per year. Initial production will be in the range of 100,000 tons per year. “This is going to be a first-of-its-kind facility in North America,” Adams said, noting it will feature state-of-the-art technologies and best practices with regard to fiber handling and processing.

Stafford Incinerator in Virginia Not “Financially Beneficial”

- by Neil Seldman, August 22, 2014, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

The Regional Solid Waste Management Board that oversees the County and City of Fredericksburg landfill will not pursue a garbage and industrial waste incineration-gasification facility. The County received no bid that it considered financially beneficial to the County and City and dropped the project.

StopTheStaffordIncinerator.com has submitted an FOIA Request to obtain copies of the proposals submitted.

Citizens who have been opposed to the project for several years were pleased with the decision and are now pressing the County to implement expanded recycling and composting. Despite having decades left of landfill capacity, the regional authority wanted an incinerator. 

Bill Johnson, StopTheStaffordIncinerator.com activist, wants to unite the government, business and citizens to plan and implement recycling and enterprises expansion under a zero waste policy initiative. The county and city have decades of landfill capacity available; a key reason why there was no need to rush into an incinerator-based solution. “Now is the time to expand recycling and composting so that the landfill will serve households and businesses for generations to come,” said Johnson.

Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network, has been the prime source of technical assistance observes that this is the second politically and fiscally conservative county in the Mid Atlantic region to reject garbage incineration as an acceptable solid waste management approach. Carroll County, MD paid $1 million this year to get out of a contract for garbage incineration. In June, Energy Justice Network helped citizens in Lorton, VA get their Fairfax County, VA to reject a 50 year expansion of a construction and demolition landfill due to close in 2016.

ILSR and Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA supported the citizens in Stafford County and Lorton through workshops and guest articles in the local media.

City of Allentown, PA Terminates Contract for Waste Incinerator

- by Allentown Residents for Clean Air, September 30, 2014, Stop the Burn

The City of Allentown is pulling out of the contract with Delta Thermo Energy.

This news surely spells the death of the experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator that threatens Allentown.

HOWEVER, the company’s air and waste permits are still out there. The air permit could be sold to other companies who want to develop that site. Their waste permit could be used by anyone here or elsewhere in the state, if not challenged.

We also have an ongoing lawsuit to get the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance on the ballot, so that voters can adopt a law protecting the city against incinerator pollution from any company in the future. This is also critical, since the case will affect whether local governments anywhere in the state can adopt their own clean air laws.

Allentown can breathe easy for now, but let’s not go to sleep. This isn’t over yet.

If you can help give back, your donations are much needed and appreciated, and will help ensure that this victory is final and that other communities also get the support they need.

Bioenergy Capacity Continues to Increase

- by Erin Voegele, September 26, 2014, Biomass Magazine

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has released the September issue of its Electric Power Monthly report, indicating total in-service bioenergy capacity equaled 13,431.4 MW as of the close of July, up from 13,368.4 MW at the close of June. Overall, 313 MW of new bioenergy capacity was added in July, with 250 MW of bioenergy capacity reductions.

According to the EIA, wood and waste wood biomass capacity increased from 8,215.3 MW to 8,329.8 MW. Overall landfill gas capacity decreased slightly, from 2,046.4 MW to 2,044.2 MW. Municipal solid waste (MSW) capacity decreased slightly from 2,230.7 MW to 2,244.0 MW. Capacity from other sources of waste biomass also decreased, from 876.0 MW to 833.4 MW.

Over the next 12 months, EIA data shows 229.3 MW of planned bioenergy capacity additions. This includes 73 MW of wood and waste wood biomass capacity, 33.5 MW of landfill gas capacity, 88 MW of MSW capacity, and 34.8 MW of capacity from other waste biomass sources.

20 Years, Yet EPA Still Fails to Protect Us From Polluting Incinerators

- by Phillip Ellis and Neil Gormley, October 4, 2014,  Huffington Post

Joe Poole Lake is a popular destination for Dallas and Fort Worth residents looking for a weekend escape to the great outdoors. Lined with barbecue grills, hiking trails and sandy beaches, the 7,400-acre lake and its wooden welcome sign invite endless opportunities to relax and unwind. For Becky Bornhorst, a stay-at-home mom who never missed a PTA meeting, this lake was where she went to relax and create memories by sailing on a catamaran with her husband and two children and walking the family dog, a yellow lab named Nellie.

Six years ago, Becky was forced to find a new spot to make these memories after she became aware that levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, were increasing in the lake — an increase she blames on the industrial incinerators nearby.

Commercial/industrial waste-burning incinerators like the one near Joe Poole Lake burn waste produced from utilities and mining, oil and gas operations or from the manufacturing of wood and pulp products, chemicals and rubber. About 15,000 incinerators are scattered across our country.

Oregon Site Selected for Biofuel Plant

- by Eric Mortenson, September 19, 2014, Capital Press

Red Rock Biofuels, a subsidiary of IR1 Group of Fort Collins, Colo., will use forest biomass — debris from logging or thinning operations — to produce fuel. It is one of three firms selected for the project, which is intended to produce a combined total of 100 million gallons annually at an average cost of less than $3.50 a gallon and producing 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuel. Firms in Nevada and Louisiana also were selected for the project. Details of the contracts were not immediately available.

The plants will produce what is called “drop-in” biofuels, meaning they are chemically similar to existing petroleum-based fuel and can be used in ships and planes without extensive retrofitting.

Thanks to NY Biomass Incinerator, Firewood More Difficult to Find

- by Pete Creedon, October 6, 2014, Watertown Daily Times

Always nice to see a company come in an offer jobs and other things that will benefit the area it serves (“ReEnergy wins huge contract at Drum,” Sept. 30).

The question is, at what cost? The people this will affect in a negative way are a small group of people who for the most part will not receive any of the benefits of this biomass plant.

These people are the ones who heat their homes with wood. For the last couple of years as this plant has been coming online, it has become harder to find firewood and at a price that has not been inflated.

There was an article in the paper last year, I believe, how the firewood producers were saying that they have not cut back on firewood production in favor of wood chip production for this biomass plant. That is hard to believe. The company I get my firewood from, I know for a fact, supplies this plant.

Last year, it was difficult to find the wood I needed for last winter. The price was almost double what I spent the year before.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Set to Drive Biomass Demand

- by David Appleyard, September 3, 2014, Cogeneration and Onsite Power Production

New analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) forecasts combined heat and power (CHP) and industrial heat demand are set to drive global bioenergy consumption over the coming decade and more.

According to Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand projections, a working paper for REmap 2030, global biomass demand could double to 108 EJ by 2030 if all its potential beyond the business as usual is implemented. Nearly a third of this total would be consumed to produce power and district heat generation with a total of 47% going between heating applications in the manufacturing industry and building sectors. Biomass use in CHP generation will be key to raise its share in the manufacturing industry and power sectors, IRENA says.

The trend towards modern and industrial uses of biomass is growing rapidly, the report notes, adding that biomass-based steam generation is particularly interesting for the chemical and petrochemical sectors, food and textile sectors, where most production processes operate with steam. Low and medium temperature process steam used in the production processes of these sectors can be provided by boilers or CHP plants. Combusting biogas in CHP plants is another option already pursued in northern European countries, especially in the food sector, where food waste and process residues can be digested anaerobically to produce biogas, IRENA adds. A recent IRENA analysis (2014b) estimated that three quarters of the renewable energy potential in the industry sector is related to biomass-based process heat from CHP plants and boilers. Hence, biomass is the most important technology to increase industrial renewable energy use, they conclude.

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