Biomass opponents fill in the blanks


Biomass plants are being built or planned around the U.S., and they provide a valuable economic and environmental outlet for the wood waste that is left behind from forestry. Biomass has received plenty of key endorsements from officials on the federal level as well as from many states — political leaders who are looking for cleaner energy sources than coal.

But biomass plants have also been seeing some opposition on the local level, from environmental activists who are concerned that the plants may produce as much air pollution as coal and other traditional energy sources.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this is actually true, but it’s still important to note that the opposition is there.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch just wrote a story about the opposition that has sprung up around several biomass plants planned in Missouri. The article does as good a job as we have seen of outlining all the different kinds of groups and interests that rally for or against biomass.

The story paints a familiar picture: proposed biomass plants with tremendous momentum from federal and state incentives and yet some lingering, stingy opposition on the local level.

But as those (biomass plant) plans now go before state regulators, some environmentalists, property owners and timber industry officials are beginning to balk. They worry some of the proposed plants will create new sources of air pollution, strain local water supplies and possibly prompt Missouri’s Ozark forests to be clear-cut.

“I think the environmental community wants to embrace biomass because it’s not coal,” said Kathleen Logan Smith, director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “Nobody wants to see more coal plants. But I’m not sure ‘it’s not coal’ is a good enough reason to jump on board.”

Those concerns are being raised just as several new biomass projects are beginning to pick up momentum, lured to Missouri by both federal subsidies and the expected increase in demand as a result of the new voter-approved renewable energy standard established under Proposition C. That ballot initiative directs investor-owned utilities to acquire 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

It does appear that much of the opposition has to do with the fact that biomass is still a relatively unknown energy source, in the sense that most people have never seen it in action. So some people fill in the blanks with the least forgiving estimates and possibilities they can think of. But once biomass plants really get going around the country, we will have firm data and personal experience as a guide.