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: March 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 3

Photos Prove Whole Trees Burned for Biomass Power

New evidence has emerged once again proving that biomass power incinerators burn whole trees—not just wood “residues”—for fuel. The photographs below (taken in December 2012) show thousands of trees stacked and awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, a 14-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Sullivan County, New Hampshire.

Biomass Power Association’s Bob Cleaves said in a June 2010 article in Power-Gen Worldwide that his organization is “not aware of any facilities that use whole trees for energy and that it is not an economically sustainable approach to biomass as the cost of cutting down one tree outweighs the potential energy benefits.” Yet as consumer demand for lumber in a collapsed housing market remains stagnant, the timber industry has been liquidating forests for biomass energy. 

Past documentation of the use of whole trees for biomass power incinerators has included photos... [READ MORE]

whole trees
Trees awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, New Hampshire

Study: Permanent Increase in Atmospheric CO2 from Biomass Energy

A new study out of Norway demonstrates what opponents of biomass energy have been saying for years: logging forests for bioenergy leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Bjart Holtsmark’s study, “The outcome is in the assumptions: analyzing the effects on atmospheric CO2 levels of increased use of bioenergy from forest biomass,” published in Global Change Biology in 2012, provides compelling evidence that the expansion of industrial-scale biomass energy will exacerbate climate change.

Scientific studies focusing on the greenhouse gas emissions of burning forests for electricity and/or heat have evolved significantly over the past few years. Earlier studies assuming the carbon neutrality of biomass energy gave way to a more recent acceptance of a short-term carbon debt (decades to centuries) with long-term carbon neutrality, leading up to today’s conclusion that “wood fuels are not carbon neutral, neither in the long term nor in the short term." ... [READ MORE]

Genetically Engineered Trees for Bioenergy Pose Major Threat to Southern Forests

- by Global Justice Ecology Project

In response to industry plans to develop eucalyptus plantations across the US South, environmental groups are raising serious concerns about the impacts of eucalyptus plantations on forests, rural communities, wildlife and the climate, especially if those trees are genetically engineered.

A recent boom in the southern biomass industry adds to the concern that industry plans to use GE eucalyptus, pine and poplar in biomass incinerators and cellulosic biofuel plants across the region. European energy companies RWE, Drax and E.On are
currently importing or have plans to import wood pellets produced in the southern US, a trend which could increase the demand for plantations of fast-growing, genetically engineered tree species.  Fortunately, GE trees are not yet approved for large-scale commercial plantations.

EcoGen, LLC recently announced plans to develop eucalyptus plantations in southern Florida to feed biomass facilities.  Additionally, South Carolina-based ArborGen has requested USDA permission to sell billions of genetically engineered cold tolerant eucalyptus trees for plantations in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.  The USDA recently announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and solicit public comment for ArborGen’s request... [READ MORE]

Bioenergy--Another False Solution

- by Robert Palgrave, Biofuelwatch

According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is “derived from natural processes…that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed.” In reality, North America’s and Europe’s renewable energy policies are heavily focused on greater use of transport biofuels and large-scale wood combustion for electricity and heat – which depends on increased logging and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations.

The fact that soils, fresh water, and ecosystems are being destroyed rather than replenished in this process is ignored. Also overlooked is the growing evidence that industrial bioenergy – both biomass electricity and transport biofuels – commonly cause more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they might replace. Numerous peer-reviewed studies document the scale of those emissions, which result from farming, processing, land-use change, and increased fertiliser use.

In the US, bioenergy accounts for 44% of all energy classed as renewable... [READ MORE]

More trees awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, New Hampshire

The Ohio Biomess

- by Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council

News broke on January 30th that Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) task-force meeting in April 2011. As many readers know, ALEC has been aggressively pushing for the repeal of renewable energy standards at state legislatures across the country. The PUCO determines whether Ohio-based energy projects, including biomass projects, receive renewable energy certification entitling them to renewable energy credits and satisfaction of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

Moreover, local news reports recently revealed that Chairman Snitchler’s Twitter account is rife with statements and re-tweets evidencing a deep hostility towards all things green and renewable energy... [READ MORE]


Beyond Burning: Micro Hydro

- Alternative Energy

Small-scale micro hydro power is both an efficient and reliable form of energy, most of the time. However, there are certain disadvantages that should be considered before constructing a small hydro power system. It is crucial to have a grasp of the potential energy benefits as well as the limitations of hydro technology. There are some common misconceptions about micro-hydro power that need to be addressed. With the right research and skills, micro hydro can be an excellent method of harnessing renewable energy from small streams.

This article will attempt to outline some of the advantages and disadvantages of small scale water turbines. [READ MORE]


From the Editor

- by Rachel Smolker, Managing Editor

Photographs of whole trees waiting to be chipped are clear evidence that the claims made by the biomass industry that they will only use "wastes and residues" are just plain bunk. But we knew that already. Common sense dictates that such massive amounts of biomass required to fuel these burners cannot possibly be met by wastes and residues alone. At least not unless the definition of "wastes and residues" is expanded to encompass virtually everything in the forest other than merchantable sawlogs.

With European utilities like DRAX and RWE now setting up shop in the U.S. to produce wood pellets for export to the UK for their massive coal conversion plans, there is no way such enormous quantities of wood – up to 90 million tonnes per year – will come from "wastes and residues." The tree biotechnology industry – ArborGen and their ilk – know this full well. They are counting on massive new demand for biomass to support a market for plantations of their Frankentrees.

The biomass industry should quit the blatant misinformation: They are not just using "wastes," no way! And burning trees for electricity is not and never will be "carbon neutral."

Biomass Buster of the Month

Roy Keene -- Oregon

Roy Keene isn’t against cutting down trees. In fact, he’s made his living as a forester in Lane and Douglas County, Oregon—“timber epicenter, USA”—over the past forty years. Yet, unlike many foresters, Roy is also an outspoken advocate for the protection of the Pacific Northwest’s native forests and a voice of caution against biomass incineration.

Roy educates policy makers, environmentalists, and members of the public on the need to transition to genuinely sustainable, low-impact logging for necessary forest products through opinion pieces in the local media and by speaking at public events.

With industry still busy decimating the last of the old growth for lumber, the “biomass balloon” has only begun inflating in Oregon. However, Keene warns that “as the price of oil climbs, the wood chip demand from China grows, [and] more biomass generating subsidies flow,” Oregon’s forests will be at “greater and further risk as a source of wood chips.”

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