THE BIOMASS MONITOR  monthly newsletter is the only publication in the U.S. covering the health and environmental impacts from industrial-scale "biomass" energy.

Managing Editors - Rachel Smolker and Mike Ewall
Editor & Journalist - Josh Schlossberg

A publication of Energy Justice Network, Biofuelwatch, and Florida League of Conservation Voters.


(The Biomass Monitor: February 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 2

Electronic Map Tracks Logging for Biomass Energy

The first and only electronic map tracking logging sites sourcing wood to a biomass energy facility has been released by Energy Justice Network, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization with field offices in Vermont, Pennsylvania and Oregon and Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in Vermont and the UK.

The initial phase of the 
McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project—funded by a grant from the Fund for Wild Nature—maps logging sites in Vermont that provided wood to the McNeil Generating Station in 2010, a 50-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Burlington. The map overlays nearly 150 forest sites logged in 2010—along with several photo galleries—on a satellite map of Vermont using Google Maps.  

Each logging site is marked with an icon of a stump with further zooming in revealing a transparent blue polygon outlining the exact location of the cutting. Clicking on the stump brings up relevant data including acreage, town, property owner
, logger, forester, date logged, and documentation of the associated scans taken from Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department maps.

The McNeil project is integrated into Energy Justice Network’s Dirty Energy Mapping Project which pinpoints the locations of existing and proposed biomass and waste incinerators, nuclear reactors, natural gas and coal-fired power plants in the US and documents grassroots community resistance to those facilities. Once completed, the McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project will map logging for both the McNeil station and the 25-megawatt Ryegate Biomass Incinerator (in Ryegate, Vermont) over a ten year period from 2002-2012 to depict the actual forest footprint of industrial scale biomass energy... READ MORE


Green Group Appeals California Biomass Proposal

Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit environmental organization based in Arizona, is appealing a December 2012 Placer County Planning Commission decision to adopt a conditional use permit and certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility. Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) alleges that the EIR for the 2.2-megawatt biomass power incinerator “does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.”Cabin Creek biomass incinerator is proposed for a site two miles from 16,000-resident Truckee and within 1,500 feet of the nearest residence. The facility had previously been proposed for Kings Beach on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe but was relocated following fierce opposition from community residents. 

The goal of the Center’s Climate Law Institute, which is undertaking the appeal through the efforts of its San Francisco-based Senior Attorney Kevin Bundy, is “to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution to protect biological diversity, the environment, and public health.” Biomass incineration, “although often touted as a ‘clean’ alternative to fossil-fueled generation, has potentially significant environmental impacts of its own,” according to the Center’s comments... READ MORE

The Cellulosic Myth

- by Brian Tokar [Excerpted from "Biofuels and the Global Food Crisis," in Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar, eds., Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict Resistance, and Renewal, New York: MONTHLY REVIEW PRESS, 2010.]

As concerns about agrofuels’ implications for food supplies and the environment have become more widespread, proponents have reaffirmed their claims that current technologies are merely a “stepping stone” to more sustainable biofuel production from the cellulose in grasses and trees, rather than from food starches and oilseed crops. They predict that the world will soon obtain increasing yields of liquid fuel extracted from prairie grasses, logging wastes and forest thinnings, as well as agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stover (i.e., leaves and stems).

The extraction of ethanol from these high-cellulose sources, however, is a complex, energy-consuming process involving many stages of enzymatic digestion and purification of breakdown products, followed by the fermentation of sugars into ethanol. Alternative processes, such as the high temperature gasification and distillation of cellulosic feedstocks—technically similar to the liquefaction of coal—have proven equally difficult to commercialize... READ MORE

Logging for industrial scale biomass incineration in Vermont

Laugh or Cry? Obama's New Commitment on Climate Change

- by Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch

In his inaugural address, President Obama spoke eloquently about his intent to address climate change, saying: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Following on, the right-wing deniers predictably flew into a frenzy of obnoxious blather, largely serving to clog up the media. Meanwhile the liberals, progressives and enviros cheered with glee, as if the mere mention of the word "climate" were a big happy victory, a frankly pathetic display that I can only imagine the right-wing deniers found amusing. The spectrum of responses is a clear reflection of the extreme dysfunction of, most especially, Washington D.C. Even as Sandy smashed NYC to smithereens and prolonged drought decimated crops across the Midwest, the leader of the country most responsible for this frightening mess is so cowed by his detractors as to feel it necessary to wait until after his reelection to even mention that seven-letter word? Oh yay.

For climate justice activists, the question is: Should we laugh or should we cry? It has certainly been disturbing to watch Obama, facing the greatest threat to life on Earth ever (yes, far greater even than the economic crisis) fail to even utter that word. But, we are also aware that when he has in fact stepped up to the plate on climate, it has not usually been pretty. For example, in 2009, when, at the eleventh hour he flew to the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen to push through, via the back rooms, a "made in the U.S." deal that removed any teeth from the negotiated agreement that had been painstakingly hammered out in accordance with participatory UN protocols. That showing in the international climate debate followed on the heels of years of U.S. interference and obstructionism, remarkable given that the we are not even a signatory to the Kyoto protocol... READ MORE

Beyond Burning: Solar Beats Biofuels for Powering Cars

- by Ken Kola,

Photovoltaics (PV) technology is much more efficient than biomass at fueling a car, say researchers, making a mockery of the US 2005 energy bill that calls for more use of corn ethanol as a biofuel. Researchers examined three ways of using sunlight to power cars: the traditional method of converting corn or other plants to ethanol; converting energy crops into electricity for vehicles; rather than producing and using photovoltaics to convert sunlight directly into electricity for cars.

"PV is orders of magnitude more efficient than biofuels pathways in terms of land use - 30, 50, even 200 times more efficient - depending on the specific crop and local conditions," says University of California, Santa Barbara professor Roland Geyer. "You get the same amount of energy using much less land, and PV doesn't require farm land."
Even the most efficient biomass-based technique requires 29 times more land than the PV-based alternative in the same locations, says the team. Photovoltaic systems for battery electric vehicles also have the lowest life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions throughout the US, and the lowest fossil fuel inputs, except in locations that have very high hypothetical switchgrass yields.

"The bottleneck for biofuels is photosynthesis," says Geyer. "It's at best  one percent efficient at converting sunlight to crop, while today's thin-film PV is at least 10 percent efficient at converting sunlight to electricity." READ MORE

From the Editor

by Rachel Smolker, Managing Editor

People seem singularly obsessed with renewable energy as THE solution to climate change. A recent example: President Obama spoke about scaling up investment in renewables in his inaugural speech—his only concrete suggestion. The problem, well known to those working to oppose biomass, is that this will mean yet more supports for burning forests and “wastes” so long as these continue to be defined as “renewable.”

Remarkably, there is little mention of the role of land and ecosystems in discussions about solutions. We know full well that deforestation and industrial agriculture  contribute a major portion of atmospheric greenhouse gases, but there seems little interest or serious consideration given to halting deforestation and shifting agriculture practices. Which means the impacts of bioenergy on lands continues to be ignored.

In this issue of The Biomass Monitor we explore a project that has begun to map out the land footprint of the McNeil biomass incinerator in Vermont. Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity’s challenge to the Cabin Creek biomass incinerator in California is based on concerns with
carbon pollution and the impact on surrounding forests.

It is certainly a great idea to stop burning fossil fuels, but what many fail to realize is that so far, renewables have only contributed a bit to overall energy generating capacity and have done little to actually displace fossil fuel use, which continues to expand—and rapidly. The call for action on the climate will certainly fall flat if we do not broaden the debate beyond “more investment in renewables.”

Biomass Buster of the Month

Aaron Kreider -- Pennsylvania

“Incineration causes global warming and kills people with air pollution,” says Philadelphia's, PA's Aaron Kreider. “We should be preserving forests and creating new forest habitat—not destroying them.” 

Aaron thinks we’re five to ten years away from "having the goals of the anti-biomass movement being accepted by most environmentalists.” In the meantime we’re facing an “unprecedented” wave of biomass proposals, largely due to federal subsidies.

As web developer for Energy Justice Network, Kreider harnesses his technical prowess to turn the biomass industry’s greed against itself through his work on the Dirty Energy Mapping Project, which tracks hundreds of existing and proposed biomass incinerators across the US. The goal of the map—which also depicts forests logged for biomass energy—is to allow citizens to actually “visualize the problem” of biomass incineration, empowering them to take local—and national—action.

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