Standing up for biomass


The Oregonian recently tried to poke some holes in the idea that woody biomass is a positive thing for the environment. Problem is, the paper’s story seemed to make a better case that biomass is a good thing with wide support, rather than a bad thing that poses problems.

No doubt, some environmental groups have raised some opposition to biomass plants. But the fact is, producing energy from biomass is better than the alternative, which is burning the wood waste in the forest and producing much more pollution than any other option.

What opponents don’t seem to realize is the timber industry is a fact of life in the Pacific Northwest, providing jobs to countless people and an economic rock for the region. It’s not going away, which means that wood waste has to be disposed somehow. Shouldn’t it be done in a way that’s cleaner and better for the environment?

One of the most interesting parts of the Oregonian story is the comments section, which includes several pages of debate.

Here is what reader “kriznol” had to say:

First of all, burning wood for any purpose is carbon neutral. If you grow a tree and then burn it, you’re not actually adding any carbon to the atmosphere. As the tree grows, it pulls in and stores CO2. When the tree burns, this CO2 is released back to the atmosphere. So long as you never stop planting new trees to replace the ones that you’re burning (i.e., you don’t replace the forest with a parking lot), burning trees will not be a net source of carbon over the long term.

Second, burning trees is BETTER than carbon neutral when it allows you to avoid using fossil fuels. If you can get your electricity from biomass, you don’t have to get it from coal . If you can heat your house with wood, you can avoid heating your house with natural gas or heating oil. If you use less coal, natural gas, and heating oil, you will release less CO2 into the atmosphere.

Third, using logging waste to generate electricity would benefit air quality. If you burn logging waste on site (which is common practice), you release lots of smoke pollution into the air. If you burn logging waste at a biomass facility, you release less pollution into the air because emissions are scrubbed with state-of-the-art equipment. You also don’t have pollution from coal burning if you can replace the coal with logging waste.