BIOENERGY: MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
(The Biomass Monitor: April 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 4)
Biomass Battle Casts Spotlight on Environmental Justice
Sometimes what seems like defeat in the short term can actually turn out to be victory in the long run. One such case involves the opposition to the construction of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power incinerator in Eugene, Oregon. While the facility fired up its smokestacks for the first time in 2011, the effort to educate neighborhood residents about the health threats of the industrial polluter morphed into a powerful environmental justice movement in the low-income community surrounding the facility.
When Eugene-based Beyond Toxics (formerly Oregon Toxics Alliance) set out to question the “green” credentials of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power plant in 2010—an 18.8 megawatt facility adjacent to the timber corporation’s existing lumber mill—they knew the deck was stacked against them. In a state where the timber industry still commands a great (some say disproportionate) amount of political influence, the organization wasn’t under any illusions that the corporation would voluntarily scrap its plans to profit off the sale of excess electricity to Eugene Water and Electric Board.
Surprisingly, despite Seneca Jones Timber Company’s dismal track record of clearcutting hundreds of thousands of acres of Oregon forests—including old growth—and dousing them with toxic herbicides—including in Eugene’s drinking watershed—few local or state environmental groups spoke out against the biomass incinerator. In 2009, the Lane County Health Advisory Committee concluded that “biomass plants would add to our already overburdened air pollution problem in Eugene,” in a county that had been stuck with a “D” in air quality from the American Lung Association. This reality encouraged Beyond Toxics to zero in on the air pollution... [READ MORE]
Alison Guzman (center) and Lisa Arkin (left) of Beyond Toxics in Eugene, Oregon
Time for a Biomass Moratorium in Oregon
- by Save Our Rural Oregon
Due to the Clean Air Act violations both Klamath Falls and Lakeview, Oregon have experienced this winter, Save Our Rural Oregon is requesting an emergency moratorium on proposed biomass and biofuels projects in both communities.
Letters have been forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, asking for their support of an emergency moratorium on biomass and biofuels projects in both Klamath Falls and Lakeview. The letter asks for a stay on the issuance of any new or modified air quality discharge permit related to biomass and biofuels projects and on awarding site certificates on those projects not yet adjudicated by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council.
“If they were already built, biomass projects proposed for both Klamath Falls and Lakeview would not only have made the air quality situation much worse but under anticipated sanctions placed upon us by EPA and DEQ starting in 2014, the biomass facilities would be exempt from shutting down and allowed to continue to burn while we citizens would be fined for heating our own homes,” said Paul Fouch, Executive Director of Save Our Rural Oregon. “If the upcoming sanctions were now in effect, these plants would never be built... [READ MORE]
Biomass Industry Fights Transparency
I was pleased to see the VT Digger opinion piece by Bill Kropelin, chief forester for Burlington Electric Department’s McNeil biomass incinerator, in response to Energy Justice Network’s McNeil Biomass Forest Map—since a public discussion on the health and environmental impacts of industrial-scale “biomass” energy in Vermont is long overdue.
As we all know, we are at a crossroads in regards to our energy choices. No longer can we depend on climate-busting and rapidly dwindling fossil fuels or risky nuclear energy to power our lifestyles. While the first step is radical energy efficiency, conservation, and “destruction of demand”—which can only be truly accomplished by adapting our ways of life to what the planet can sustain—it’s clearly time for appropriately sited and scaled, genuinely clean, renewable energy.
However, not all renewable energy is created equal. While every form of “alternative” energy—from solar to wind to hydro to geothermal—has impacts on the environment and human health, by far the most harmful of these options is industrial-scale biomass incineration... [READ MORE
Logging for McNeil biomass incinerator in Buels Gore, Vermont
Biomass in Georgia Threatens Community Health
- by John Beal, Dogwood Alliance
Why would we sacrifice the health of our children and the future of our Southern forests for a biomass plant that will have no sustainable future? Here in Georgia we are facing this threat and asking this question. A Lithonia (GA) organization, Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment, is working to stop the construction of a local biomass plant. They are on the front lines of the efforts to halt this industrial development that is not a better alternative to burning coal and oil!
We got some welcome news here as the new year started when Georgia Power announced that they were retiring 15 dirty coal and oil burning plants. They also recently announced no new planned power stations. Georgia families will breathe easier with these polluters phased out. But plans to build a biomass plant in Lithonia will just add a new source of pollution that is once again a real threat to human health and additionally a new threat to our Southern forests and ecosystems. This new plant will emit tons of hazardous pollutants that are already known to cause cancer and birth defects... [READ MORE]
Burlington, Vermont Ignores Biomass Emissions
It’s good news that IBM is helping Burlington, Vermont lower its impact on the climate. [“IBM Wants to Help Burlington Reduce Its Carbon Footprint,” Seven Days, March 27]. Unfortunately, the city’s refusal to fix glaring errors in its Climate Action Plan prevents an honest look at Burlington’s actual contributions to runaway global climate change.
The Burlington Climate Action Plan reports the entire city’s carbon dioxide emissions for 2007—from all sources—at 397,272.4 tons. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates the CO2 emissions of McNeil’s Generating Station alone—the 50 megawatt biomass incinerator supplying roughly one-third of the city’s electricity—at 444,646 tons per year. A closer look reveals that the city only counted 2% of McNeil’s emissions from the 30 cords of wood it burns per hour from New York and Vermont forests along with a varying percentage of natural gas (including fracked gas)... [READ MORE]
Beyond Burning: Ground Source Heat Pumps
- International Ground Source Heat Pump Association
Ground source heat pumps are electrically powered systems that tap the stored energy of the greatest solar collector in existence: the earth. These systems use the earth's relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling, and hot water for homes and commercial buildings.
Ground source heat pumps can be categorized as having closed or open loops, and those loops can be installed in three ways: horizontally, vertically, or in a pond/lake. The type chosen depends on the available land areas and the soil and rock type at the installation site. These factors will help determine the most economical choice for installation of the ground loop.
For closed loop systems, water or antifreeze solution is circulated through plastic pipes buried beneath the earth's surface. During the winter, the fluid collects heat from the earth and carries it through the system and into the building. During the summer, the system reverses itself to cool the building by pulling heat from the building, carrying it through the system and placing it in the ground. This process creates free hot water in the summer and delivers substantial hot water savings in the winter.
Open loop systems operate on the same principle as closed loop systems and can be installed where an adequate supply of suitable water is available and open discharge is feasible. Benefits similar to the closed loop system are obtained.