US Forest Service Moves to Start Clearcutting in Rim Fire Area

- by Chad Hanson, August 28, 2014, Earth Island Journal 

[How much of the forests that experienced the Rim Fire will be feeding biomass incinerators? -Ed.]

The US Forest Service issued a draft decision yesterday for a massive post-fire logging project in the Stanislaus National Forest portion of the 2013 California Rim Fire, which covered 257,171 acres on the national forest and Yosemite National Park. A final, signed decision on the proposal is expected this afternoon. 

The draft decision proposes over 37,000 acres of intensive post-fire logging, which would remove the majority of the rarest and most ecologically valuable habitat resulting from the fire on the Stanislaus National Forest: “snag forest habitat” created by high-intensity fire in mature conifer forest. (Forty one percent of the Rim Fire area was comprised of non-conifer vegetation, such as grassland and foothill chaparral, and most of the forest area burned at low/moderate-intensity, wherein only a portion of the trees were killed). 

This would include essentially clear-cutting 95 percent of the snags (standing fire-killed trees) in 19,462 acres of the fire area. An additional 17,706 acres of “roadside” logging is planned along roads, including old logging roads, which are not maintained for public use (and many of which are closed roads, long since decommissioned). Much of this would be clearcut too, including live, healthy, mature, and old-growth trees, which would be removed by the thousands, for no credible public safety benefit, based upon profoundly vague criteria that allow just about any tree to be cut.

Springfield, MA City Council Votes to Appeal Biomass Permit Ruling

- by Ryan Trowbridge, September 10, 2014, WGGB

Wednesday night, the Springfield City Council took up the contentious issue of a planned biomass incinerator in the city.

Opponents claim the plant would only add more pollution to an already polluted city, but the state just ruled Springfield does not have the authority to stop its development.

It’s an issue several years in the making and Wednesday, the City Council met to vote on what it should do next in the battle to keep the plant from being built.

Palmer Renewable Energy is looking to build a $150 million biomass wood burning plant in Springfield. The biomass plant, near Page Boulevard and Cadwell Drive, Would produce 35 megawatts of electricity.

Opponents, however, say it’s dirty energy and would further pollute the Springfield area.

Biomass Causes Problematic Emissions Too

- by Richard Ball, August 31, 2014, The Washington Post

The Post’s Aug. 28 editorial “An answer to global warming” made good points about a carbon tax. However, a serious problem that was not mentioned is how to deal with adverse impacts from biomass energy sources, such as burning wood in power plants. Most proposed carbon control schemes do not control emissions from biomass energy, erroneously assuming they are carbon neutral.

If we tax carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and ignore the emissions and side effects from production of biomass energy, we will hasten the demise of most forests and worsen the availability and cost of food, perhaps increasing carbon dioxide emissions as well.

To avoid those problems, any carbon control scheme needs to close the “biomass loophole.” For example, we could tax emissions from burning biomass like any other source of carbon dioxide emissions, at least by default, and put the burden of proving otherwise on large biomass producers or users through an appropriate system of certification of emission reductions and sustainability of production methods.

Richard Ball of Annandale, Viriginia is Energy Issues Chair at Virginia Chapter Sierra Club and was lead author for Working Group II (Impacts and Adaptation) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 1989-1995.  

What the Frack? Scraping the Bottom of the Oil Barrel is Not Good to the Last Drop

- by Mark Robinowitz, PeakChoice.org

The toxic impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas have been subject to public debates, protests, and lawsuits, among other tactics to stop these dangers. But the other half of the fracking story, which has had much less attention, is the exaggeration of recoverable reserves.

The fracking industry claims shale gas will fuel 100 years worth of USA consumption of “natural” gas. Massive amounts of drilling in the past several years have increased gas production above the 1973 natural gas peak. Gas has significantly increased its share of the electric power grids, lowering coal combustion and helping damper plans for new nuclear reactors.  

One of fracking’s dirty secrets is fracked wells decline far faster than conventional wells. Fracking a well also requires more money, technical talent and resources than conventional wells.  

Two of the three top gas fracking regions in the USA have peaked. Barnett Shale near Fort Worth, Texas has peaked and plateaued. Haynesville in Louisiana and Arkansas has peaked and declined sharply. The largest fracking region -- Marcellus in Pennsylvania -- has not yet peaked and provides nearly a fifth of all USA natural gas. Nationally, about forty percent of natural gas is from fracking.  

Fracking for oil has reversed the decline of USA oil extraction since the 1970 peak. The Bakken shale in North Dakota has fueled wild claims of alleged energy independence and even proposals to export oil to Asia. However, Bakken has not even offset the decline of the Alaska Pipeline, which has dropped three fourths from its 1988 peak and is approaching “low flow” shutdown. Fracking in south Texas has also raised Texan oil production but the state’s peak was still back in 1972 -- a reason huge efforts have been made for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Post Carbon Institute has published reports documenting how fracking estimates have been exaggerated. They were vindicated in May of this year when the Department of Energy admitted plans for oil fracking in the Monterey Shale in California had been exaggerated and downsized the estimated resource by ninety-six percent (96%). Post Carbon’s montereyoil.org website has details.  

We are in a paradox at this time of Peak Everything and Climate Chaos. If we keep burning fossil fuels we will continue to wreck the biosphere, but if we suddenly stopped that would wreck civilization, which could accelerate ecological destruction (how many forests would be burned for electricity, for example). Fossil fuels allowed our population to zoom from under a billion to over seven billion today.

Fracking, deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and tar sands extraction in Canada have delayed gasoline rationing. We are in the eye of the energy crisis hurricane, perhaps for a few more years.

The Limits to Growth study in 1972 predicted peak resources around the turn of the century, followed by peak pollution as dirtier resources were used as higher quality resources were depleted. Fracking, tar sands, mountaintop removal and other desperate destructions seek to maintain the exponential growth economy now that the easier to extract fossil fuels are in decline.  

Using solar energy for two decades taught me that renewable energy could only run a smaller, steady state economy. Our exponential growth economy requires ever increasing consumption of concentrated resources (fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables). A solar energy society would require moving beyond growth-and-debt based money.

After fossil fuel we will only have solar power, but that won't replace what we use now. We need to abandon the myth of endless growth on a round, and therefore, finite planet to have a planet on which to live.

Humanity does not face the question of whether to use less fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, since we have reached the limits to energy growth due to geological factors. How we use the remaining fossil fuels as they deplete determines how future generations will live after the fossil fuels are gone. Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for bigger highways or better trains? Relocalization of food production or more globalization? Resource wars or global cooperation?

Mark Robinowitz is author of “Peak Choice: cooperation or collapse” at PeakChoice.org

Albany, Georgia Biomass Project Takes Step Toward Reality

- by Dave Miller, September 4, 2014, WALB News

The Albany-­Dougherty Payroll Development Authority has given the go-ahead for its part in the proposed new biomass generator in conjunction with Procter&Gamble in Albany.

We reported Tuesday that the PDA Ok'ed a new lease for Procter and Gamble that could help them cut waste, and allowing the company to have another tenant.

The combined heat and power biomass facility at the Albany Procter & Gamble Paper Products Co. was touted as a boon for the local economy by strengthening existing industries, protecting jobs and positioning Albany as a premier location for renewable energy projects.

The utility scale biomass plant would be one of the largest in Georgia and represents up to $230 million of investment by Albany Green Energy, LLC. The potential project, which is being driven by Procter & Gamble, Constellation New Energy and Sterling Energy Assets, would create 25 to 35 full-­-time jobs and an average of 190 construction jobs across 21 months with a peak of 575 jobs, and create nearly $8 million in tax revenue over the two-decade deal.

Public Opposition Spurs County to Delay New Biomass Facility

[Interesting piece by industry PR person in regards to dealing with public opposition to dirty energy projects. -Ed.]

- by Al Maiorino, September 2, 2014, Renewable Energy Magazine

Transylvania County in North Carolina is currently engaged in intensive internal debate about the role of biomass in their future. The current state of affairs began last year when Renewable Developers, a New York based LLC, proposed the construction of a biomass waste to energy conversion plant in the town of Penrose.

The new facility would utilize the pyrolysis method of conversion to turn wood chips and municipal solid waste into approximately four megawatts of renewably sourced electricity. Unfortunately, staunch public opposition lead by the NIMBY group People for Clean Mountains (PCM) immediately began to oppose the facility after it was announced.

Hawaii's Only Coal-fired Power Plant May Switch to Biomass

- by Duane Shimgawa, August  28, 2014,  Pacific Business News

The only coal-fired power plant in Hawaii, which is the single largest generating plant on Oahu, is under financial stress because there is no financial reserve, according to the Hawaiian Electric Co.'s new energy plan released this week.

Hawaiian Electric is also asking AES Hawaiito convert some of the energy being produced at the plant in Campbell Industrial Park to biomass from coal

Given the potential financial impact of an interruption of service associated with a financial default of AES Hawaii, HECO said it has been negotiating in good faith with the company to explore the possibility of an amendment to the power purchase agreement that would make financial sense to AES Hawaii and ratepayers.

As part of the ongoing negotiations for the change in the power purchase agreement, the state’s largest electric utility has asked AES Hawaii to convert some or all of the energy produced at the facility from coal to biomass, possibly from black pellets made from wood.

Amid Oil and Gas Boom, Colorado Continues Role as Earthquake Lab

- by Kevin Simpson, August  31, 2014,  The Denver Post

From the living room chair where he sat reading around half past 9 on a May evening, Ron Baker heard the boom and felt his century-old Greeley farmhouse shudder, sending a menagerie of plastic horses toppling from a bedroom shelf.

He stepped out the back door and aimed a flashlight at the thick, ancient cottonwood that leans over the roof, expecting to reveal a snapped limb as the culprit. But he circled the house and found nothing amiss.

About a half-mile down the county road, Judy Dunn had been sitting in bed watching TV when she felt her brick ranch house shake and heard the windows rattle, making her wonder if an oil or gas well had blown.

A few miles away in the city, Gail Jackson joined neighbors spilling out into the street, wondering if a plane crash had triggered the big bang and sudden vibration that dissipated as quickly as it arrived.

Marcellus Shale Drillers Under-Reported Waste

- by Anya Litvak and Maxwell Radwin, August 31, 2014, The Post-Gazette

EQT Corp. told the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that it sent 21 tons of drill cuttings from its Marcellus Shale wells to area landfills in 2013.

But landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania told a different story.

Six facilities in this part of the state reported receiving nearly 95,000 tons of drill cuttings and fracking fluid from the Downtown-based oil and gas operator last year.

The landfills' records are the correct ones, said Mike Forbeck, waste management director with the DEP. He said the agency has opened an investigation into drillers' under-reporting of landfill waste.

The EQT case — 21 tons vs. 95,000 tons — may be the most dramatic example of how data submitted by oil and gas operators don't match up to reporting required of landfills. The DEP said it has been aware of the problem for "a number of months" and is looking into why the different reporting channels aren't yielding the same results.

Proposed Washington Biomass Incinerator Nets $200k State Grant

[Another biomass incinerator that would require the logging of public lands. -Ed.] 

- by Eric Florip, August 27, 2014, The Columbian

A $200,000 state grant will support a new biomass-fueled power plant near Stevenson expected to be operational next year, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday. The money will go to Wind River Biomass Utility, which has pursued the project will local, state and federal partners.

"Enabling clean, renewable heat and power generation from forest biomass not only creates jobs and economic activity in our timber-dependent communities, it supports our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase treatment of our local forested lands for health and fire reduction," Inslee said in a statement. The announcement came during the governor's swing through the area.

The facility would generate energy from forest biomass — for example, the wood debris left over from timber harvesting, thinning and treatments.

Studies have shown the plant could be built along with a greenhouse and nursery business, according to the governor's office. The heat and power generated by the facility would serve the site itself, and surplus power could be sold to the Skamania County PUD.

The grant will be paid through the state Department of Commerce's Forest Products Financial Assistance Program, which is federally funded. The money will be used to purchase equipment for the facility.

The $2 million first phase of the project is expected to operational by next summer, said Paul Spencer, managing partner with Wind River Biomass. The facility's initial capacity will be a half of a megawatt of electricity, and two to three megawatts of heat equivalent, Spencer said. Future expansion could increase capacity to two megawatts of electricity and five megawatts of heat equivalent, he said.

Most of the material fueling the plant will come from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Spencer said.

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