Biomass succeeds in D.C. and Northwest


The announcement in January that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was putting off a decision on biomass plant emissions for three years was great news for the biomass industry, but the debate will surely rage on.

The EPA says it will finalize the three-year deferral on July 1 and it’s taking public comments on the decision in the meantime. The EPA has shown that it plans to move forward with the three-year deferral and has even started taking nominations for a scientific panel that will study biomass emissions over the three-year period. Though that hasn’t stopped the Natural Resources Defense Council from launching a misinformation campaign aimed at the EPA.

The NRDC says that the EPA’s three-year deferral “will create a powerful incentive for power plants to shift from burning coal to burning biomass” and tries to make that sound like a bad thing. Our country needs clean sources of renewable energy, and it’s unfortunate that environmental groups like the NRDC are trying to stand in the way of a cause one would think they would want to lead.

David Tenny, the President of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, recently told the EPA that the three-year deferral will allow the federal agency to make a fair decision, unlike the state of Massachusetts, which effectively ended its biomass industry because of a deeply flawed study. The study, by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, has been widely discredited.

Tenny to the EPA:

“The flawed study resulted in a flawed policy. EPA can learn from the unfortunate outcome in Massachusetts to put in place an even-handed review.”

Allowing the EPA to study the issue for three years holds some promise, Tenny said.

Tenny reminded the EPA that NAFO, “stands ready to work with the Agency to establish a policy recognizing the full carbon and landscape benefits of forest biomass as an energy source.”

In the Pacific Northwest, biomass will also be a major factor as the timber industry looks to new technologies and state governments rely more on renewable energy sources. The Longview Daily News recently took a look at the promise of biomass projects in Washington, especially as Initiative 937 mandates the state adopt more renewable energy.

In Washington, biomass can also help boost the bottom line of existing (pulp and lumber mill) facilities.

“It’s the idea of one more tool in the tool kit in their business portfolio,” said state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, whose 18th legislative district is heavily dependent on pulp and lumber mills for jobs.

The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., did an in-depth story this month on the new Seneca Sustainable Energy biomass plant that is “the cleanest in Oregon and possibly in the nation,” according to Merlyn Hough, director of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, which issued Seneca its permits to operate.

While environmental groups complained before the plant’s opening that it would emit toxic emissions, the plant’s innovative exhaust system means it’s been operating without any visible sign.

On Wednesday there were no visible emissions coming out of the exhaust tower.

“A lot of people ask when we’re going to start running,” said Seneca timberlands manager Todd Payne, who is overseeing the power plant. “We tell them we’ve been running.”

The plant also is a critical source of power for the Eugene area. The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) has a 15-year contract with the plant because it’s reliable and locally sourced, unlike hydroelectric power.

The local electricity also insulates EWEB from natural disasters that could disrupt the power supply in the Columbia basin. “Seneca, being local and firm can be a source to help keep vital services going,” Harwood said.