Biomass Resistance Beyond Borders [June 2013]
THE BIOMASS MONITOR  is the world's leading publication tracking 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, Florida Environmental Justice Network, and Florida League of Conservation Voters.


(June 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 6

An Anti-Biomass Movement Beyond Borders

The grassroots biomass resistance has come a long way over the years and it’s growing stronger every day. A mere five years ago few people even questioned the logic of classifying polluting biomass energy alongside smokestack-free energy sources like solar and wind. Most environmental groups hailed bioenergy as a climate savior and the only mentions of biomass in the media were how many jobs developers were promising.

Then a very good thing—concern with climate change—opened the floodgates to something very bad—billions of dollars of government subsidies for biomass. Like a pack of hungry rats, the biomass industry gorged itself on the taxpayer-funded government cheese. A rash of biomass incinerator proposals erupted across the nation like an outbreak of acne. Quiet communities found themselves facing polluting monstrosities being erected a stone’s throw away from their homes or their children’s schools.

Enter the grassroots anti-biomass movement… [READ MORE]


Report: Tree Plantations in the South to Generate Energy in the North

It is always helpful to hear the perspective of people in the “global south,” especially when it is their land in the tropics that is so often targeted as a source of biomass energy for the “north.” World Rainforest Movement (WRM) has been at the forefront of opposition to industrial tree plantations for decades, so they know full well what the consequences of vast new demands for biomass will be.

Their new report, Tree Plantations in the South to Generate Energy in the North, points out that over two billion people, mostly in the south, depend on wood as an energy source for basic cooking and heating, yet “policies being pursued in Europe, North America and at the international level, for example, through the Sustainable Energy For All Initiative, seek to reduce the use of traditional bioenergy and to replace it, including with fossil fuels, while boosting large scale industrial bioenergy including wood based electricity and agrofuels.”

Indeed northern analysts have been busily mapping global biomass availability as if the world’s lands were free for the taking, while a wave of land grabs—often with violent evictions and displacements—has swept around the globe. These land grabs are fueled by... [READ MORE]

Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned

Toxic smokestack emissions aren’t the only public health threat from industrial scale biomass energy facilities. Fires and explosions have been responsible for multiple injuries and three deaths at biomass incinerators over the past three decades.

As of May 2013, fires and/or explosions have occurred at 19 industrial biomass incinerators, based on research from UK-based Port Talbot Residents Against Power Stations and The Biomass Monitor. Additionally, over 45 wood pellet plants and 20 wood products mills have experienced fires of varying levels of intensity and destructiveness.  

“Besides the emissions that come out of these facilities’ smokestacks when they are operating,” said Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch,” people living in proximity are at risk from fires and explosions which are really very common.”

Fires at biomass facilities typically start from boiler fires, spontaneous combustion of fermenting woodchip or sawdust piles, or wood dust explosions, according to the Institution of Fire Engineers.  

The most recent biomass incinerator blaze occurred... [READ MORE]


Facts Needed on Penrose, NC Biomass Proposal

- by Rick and Jeannie Falknor

Transylvania County residents deserve all the facts about the proposed biofuel plant at the airport site in Penrose [North Carolina], especially the negative impacts such a business can have on our county.

First, biomass power generation is a dirty industry. According to a Wall Street Journal-cited study conducted in early 2012, of the 107 operating biomass plants in the United States, 85 have been cited by federal or state regulators for the violation of clean air or water standards laws over the past 5 years. And the dirty reality goes further. These biomass generators have been shown to release high levels of fine particulate air pollution that can cause breathing problems, and volatile organic compounds linked to cancer... [READ MORE]

Genetically Engineered Trees and Glowing Synthetic Plants?

This week (May 26-June 1) in Asheville, N.C., the IUFRO "Tree Biotechnology" conference will meet. And the attendees will be met: by protests. Public opinion is unequivocally opposed to genetically engineered trees. When the South Carolina-based tree engineering company, ArborGen recently applied for deregulation of their freeze tolerant eucalyptus, APHIS responded by filing a "notice of intent" to conduct an environmental impact statement, and opened up for public comments on ArborGen's petition. The comments the received were overwhelmingly negative by a vast majority.

Similarly, when ArborGen filed for permission to field test their frankeneucalyptus back in 2010, more than 17,500 comments opposing the tests were submitted, while only 39 were favorable. In spite of the abysmal approval ratings, USDA granted permission to field test the trees and then again granted permission to allow some plots to go to flower. A lawsuit was filed against USDA by a coalition of groups (Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity). In an article published in Biomass Magazine, spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization credited the suit as "... a hindrance to biomass development, as they discourage investment... It is creating a huge barrier."... [READ MORE]

BEYOND BURNING: Soccer Ball Powers Lights Through Play

- by Jesse Emspak, Discovery News

The Soccket is a soccer ball, but it has a set of pendulums inside that swing around as you kick the ball or bounce it. The motion inside generates power, and the electricity is stored in a battery. On one side is a small seal that opens and reveals a power socket for a small LED lamp. Plug it in, and it can shine or about three hours if the ball bounces and rolls for about thirty minutes, longer if one plays with it more.

More than a fun way to power a light, there’s a more serious purpose to the Soccket: many places around the world don’t have reliable electricity and a simple reading lamp is a problem — especially when there is no electrical infrastructure. Soccer is played over most of the developing world, so combining a lamp and a soccer ball is logical, especially if it’s fun to play with...[READ MORE]

From the Editor

by Rachel Smolker, Managing Editor

This past month has seen a lot of activity. At the "Tree Biotechnology" conference in Asheville, North Carolina, conference attendees spoke with straight faces on topics like "Engineering Trees for Biorefineries" as protestors outside made it crystal clear that the industry will be met with strong resistance.

Meanwhile, as The Biomass Monitor’s article on fires and explosions was in preparation, another exploding biomass facility (in northern California) made its way into headline news, this time with two people injured. This adds new meaning to the mantra: "We Can’t Burn Our Way Out of Climate Change," the term "burning" refering to coal, oil, gas, trash, and biomass. But now perhaps we can add burning of biomass plants and their workers to the list?

This past month also saw a new milestone—the atmosphere passing 400 PPM (parts per million) CO2 for the first time in 2.5 million years. The world is still waiting for real solutions to this monumental problem, and meanwhile, as the new report from World Rainforest Movement illustrates, global opposition to false solutions—including biomass burning—keeps growing.

Biomass Buster of the Month

Pete Kilvert -- Urmston, UK

Pete Kilvert opposes industrial-scale biomass energy for three reasons: its “massive health impacts,” the fact that it “produces more carbon dioxide than coal,” and because it “destroys forests,” wreaking havoc on the lives of the native peoples and wildlife who live there. 

As chairman of the Breathe Clean Air Group, based in Urmston, United Kingdom, Pete and his group have used every tool in the toolbox in their resistance to the Barton Renewable Energy Plant, a 20 megawatt biomass incinerator proposed for Trafford. Kilvert and company have ceaselessly lobbied the government, run a tenacious media campaign, organized protest marches, arranged a balloon launch (to show where prevailing winds would spread pollution), and generated over 10,000 signatures in defiance of the incinerator.

Kilvert believes the UK government is obsessed with biomass because it’s a quick way to pretend to create clean energy. Instead, Kilvert insists, the biomass boom is really a “quick way to disaster.”

SIGN THE PETITION: Protect Americans from Biomass Energy Air Pollution!

Please sign the online petition asking Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to advocate on behalf of the health and well-being of all Americans by ending his support for the expansion of polluting industrial-scale biomass energy. After signing the petition, please share with your friends!

If you are affiliated with an organization that would like to join the nearly 70 organizations already signed on to the letter being hand delivered to Congress, please email josh [at] energyjustice [dot] net.  
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