Another biomass study is refuted


This week Oregon State University released a study that claims using woody biomass for electricity isn’t carbon neutral. But like the Manomet study out of Massachusetts last year, the OSU study is not standing up well to scrutiny.

So much so that some critics of the study are from Oregon State University itself.

Paul Barnum, executive director of the (Oregon State) forest research institute, said Oregon’s dry eastern forests have “unnaturally high levels of biomass” that can be used to generate electricity and heat.

“If we don’t actively manage these forests, we run the risk of catastrophic wildfire” that would be disastrous to wildlife, water quality and buildings, he said in an email.

Norm Johnson, also a forestry professor at Oregon State, is a biomass supporter.

Burning wood doesn’t produce energy as efficiently as burning fossil fuels. But new tree growth will recapture the excess carbon emissions from biomass over time, he said.

The study was also criticized by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a strong biomass advocate.

Kitzhaber remains committed to developing biomass energy for the wide range of benefits it provides, said Tim Raphael, the governor’s communications director.

Rural economic development, forest health, reducing the use of fossil fuels and even international energy security are among the factors, Raphael said.

“That’s really the filter that we’ve looked at it through, and I’m not sure that was the filter of the study,” he said.

The Medford Mail Tribune and Blue Mountain Eagle editorialized against the study, and David Tenny, the president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), also raised some serious questions.

The study wildly overestimates the amount of forestland that will be harvested over the next 20 years, Tenny says, and ignores the fact that a lot of carbon has already been removed by a growing volume of forests.

Tenny doesn’t think the study will have any influence on future biomass energy policy. “It will probably crumble under its own weight,” he said. It takes a very short time frame, doesn’t look at the carbon cycle as it really is—at a scale that should be global—while confining the scale to a very narrow period of time using rotations that are four times shorter than the standard in the area. When you’re using scales that are ten times more than the federal agencies do nationally in a year, you’re going to come up with a conclusion that there will be more carbon in the atmosphere in the results.”