The promise of biomass over coal


The Seattle Times recently ran a laughable op-ed from an anti-biomass activist, full of wild and unsubstantiated claims about the industry. Duff Badgley tries, for instance, to claim that there won’t be enough woody debris to supply the biomass plants that are being built in Washington, when in fact the University of Washington just completed a study of the six counties most likely to host biomass plants and found there would be plenty of debris to supply the plants.

Badgley also criticized Peter Goldmark, the state commissioner of public lands, for his proposal to use biomass to make jet fuel. Goldmark is coming up with innovative solutions to meet our country’s renewable energy goals, and all a guy like Badgley can do is make empty complaints.

Goldmark himself had an op-ed in the Times a few days later, where he describes the benefits of biomass and contradicts the small number of activists who would rather live with dirty fossil fuels than explore clean alternatives.

At the same time, we have no time to waste. If we let our fears about the challenges of renewable-energy technology stop us in our tracks, we will never achieve the very real environmental gains that these technologies offer. If we refuse to move forward with biomass, then the burning of more coal and fossil fuels will be the alternative. A renewable-energy future fulfills our state and national imperative to wean ourselves off imported oil.

Meanwhile, biomass has been at the forefront of discussion in Oregon as well. Gov. John Kitzhaber just announced a grant program that will allow forest product companies to complete feasibility studies for possible biomass plants. Kitzhaber, who was newly elected in November after serving as governor from 1995-2003, has made biomass one of the highlights of his economic agenda.

President Obama visited the Portland area this week, and Tony Hyde, a Columbia County commissioner, used an op-ed in the Oregonian to encourage the president to let the biomass industry move forward and become a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently delayed its regulatory decision on biomass emissions for three years, but it’s still unclear what its final decision will be.

Hyde said the biomass industry could have faced “possible extinction” if the EPA had decided this year to treat biomass emissions just like those from coal plants.

In fact, recent data supported Oregonians’ concerns about the effect of the (EPA) tailoring rule on the biomass industry. In December, Forisk Consulting found that the tailoring rule would have jeopardized as many as 26,000 renewable energy jobs and $18 billion in capital investment, as well as put more than 130 renewable energy projects at risk of delay or even cancellation. In addition, as many as 30 states would have been unable to achieve a 15 percent renewable energy standard — a standard much lower than the 25 percent that our state is attempting to achieve.

Hyde certainly speaks for everyone involved in the biomass industry when he writes:

I urge the president to take a look at our state’s potential for renewable energy generation and green job creation and affirm the carbon neutrality of biomass while taking steps to support the long-term growth of the industry.