Clearing the Air on Biomass Emissions

(December 2016 - Volume 7, Issue 12)


Send The Biomass Monitor to Arizona

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor 

Novo BioPower (formerly Snowflake White Mountain) is a 27-megawatt biomass power facility in Snowflake, Arizona located about 180 miles northeast of Phoenix, and the only one in Arizona.

Opened in 2008, the facility generates baseline power for 20,000 homes and employs 36 workers. It’s fueled primarily by small trees, tree tops, limbs, and logging byproducts from nearby National Forests, as well as from sawmills, collection yards, and orchard trimmings.

A portion of its fuel is sourced from the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), a collaboration between federal and state land managers, the forest products industry, and some conservationists to conduct forest restoration, wildfire fuel reduction, and commercial logging in the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto National Forests in Arizona.

A partnership between Concord Blue and Good Earth was originally slated to turn trees and woody residue from 4FRI logging into jet fuel, a process that has yet to be achieved on a commercial scale. Instead, Concord Blue has just broken ground on a biomass gasification project that would convert wood into a combustible syngas to generate 1 megawatt of power.

More than just of local interest, the story of 4FRI, Novo BioPower, and biomass energy in Arizona is of national importance. The majority of new biomass power facilities in the western U.S. are being built near National Forests in order to make use of wood from wildfire fuel reduction. In many cases, this logging would not be undertaken without a destination for the wood. How things play out for biomass in Arizona may very well be a litmus test for the rest of the country.

Unlike most media outlets, The Biomass Monitor is uniquely equipped to get to the heart of this far-reaching story. With a command of the best available science and knowledge of the many players on all sides of the issue, we promise to get you the real, balanced scoop.

Will you make a tax-deductible donation to support The Biomass Monitor’s next investigative report?

Biomass Facilities Play Important Role in Improving Air Quality 

– by Bruce Springsteen, Compliance and Enforcement Manager, Placer County Air Pollution Control District

California biomass power plants provide an alternative to the open pile burning of woody forest and agricultural wastes as a means of disposal. By utilizing this significant renewable resource for clean and efficient power generation, biomass power plants avoid the significant air pollution from open pile burning and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. 

Presently California’s 22 biomass power plants, with individual capacity ranging from 10-50 MW, produce 530 MW of renewable and reliable baseload (24/7) electricity. Much of the biomass fuel for these plants is woody waste that is the byproduct of the sustainable management of California’s highly productive: (1) fruit and nut orchards in the Central Valley, and (2) forested lands through the foothills and mountains.  

Fruit and nut orchard wastes include annual tree prunings and periodic removal of over-mature trees. Forest wastes – small diameter tree stems, tops, limbs, branches, and brush – are the product of fuel hazard reduction, forest health and productivity improvements, and traditional commercial harvest. Of concern is the pending increase in forest waste supply as land managers accelerate the scale and pace of fuels treatments to reduce the risk of high severity wildfire and to return forests to fire-resilient conditions in response to tree mortality  and the overly dense fuel condition resulting from a century of successful wildfire suppression.


Biomass Facilities Can Worsen Air Pollution

– by Jana Ganion, Energy Director, Blue Lake Rancheria 

“Particulate matter pollution” — air-borne particles (visible and invisible) that seep into our lungs and environment — is now a proven, dire health hazard, and an environmental harm accelerant.

We can compare the crescendo of information around the health hazards of particulate matter air pollution to the public’s awakening to — and acceptance of — the health hazards of cigarettes. In the case of tobacco, we proceeded from physicians recommending smoking, to understanding that it absolutely causes cancer. The certainty regarding the dangers of particulate matter air pollution has reached the same point: there is no doubt it damages health — from worsening asthma, to heart and lung disease, to shortened lifespans, and death.

Just type “particulate matter health” in your favorite internet search engine and glance at recommendations from non-partisan, trusted agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Agency , State of New York, and many others.

In an interesting recent article from the Wall Street Journal, “Does Poor Air Quality Hurt Stock-Market Returns?”, economist researchers from both Columbia University and University of Ottawa found that on bad-air days in New York City, when 2.5 micron particulate matter (PM2.5, invisible particles most dangerous to human health) were at high levels, stock market prices went down by ~12%. It seems that when people can’t breathe well, they get “risk averse.”


The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.

Daily blog and back issues: 

Photos: MAIN: McNeil Generating Station, Burlington, Vermont (Vermont Public Radio), Open pile burning in California (Placer County Air Pollution Control District); McNeil Generating Station (Josh Schlossberg); SIDEBAR: Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah (Josh Schlossberg), Novo Biopower, Snowflake, Arizona (, Cellulosic Ethanol Facility in Germany (Ethanol  Producer Magazine) 

Editor - Josh Schlossberg
Associate Editor - Samantha Chirillo
Editorial Board - Roy Keene, Brett Leuenberger, Dr. Brian Moench, Jon Rhodes, George Wuerthner

For submissions, feedback, or questions, email


Dear Biomass Monitor Subscriber,

The question lingers: can air emissions from biomass energy facilities harm human health?

Here’s what we know: Burning biomass emits certain air pollutants, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, pollutants that have been linked to health effects including asthma and cancer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and various public health organizations and medical professionals. 

However, the vast majority of biomass energy facilities employ sophisticated filtration technology to drastically—though not completely—reduce emissions compared to woodstoves or open burning, which emit smoke directly into the air. 

The controversy isn’t whether or not biomass facilities emit pollutants, but whether they do so in the volume and concentration that can impact human health. And not just among healthy people, but also more vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those who suffer health impairments.  

Unfortunately, to our knowledge, not a single study has been conducted to determine whether health problems in a given community can be linked to a particular biomass energy facility. 

So the real question becomes, with the continued expansion of bioenergy in the U.S., why haven’t these studies been conducted? 

Conference Call

Cellulosic vs. Food-Based Biofuels 

Join The Biomass Monitor on Thursday, December 15 at 2 pm PT / 3 MT / 4 CT / 5 ET where we speak with Kelly Stone, Policy Analyst for ActionAid USA who discusses a new cellulosic biofuels paper along with concerns related to food security and land rights. 

RSVP on Facebook and email for call-in number. 

Download the audio recording of November's call: "Native American Tribe's Concerns With Biomass Energy," with Jana Ganion, Energy Director for Blue Lake Rancheria. 
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