The truth about biomass


A piece of news came out late last week that would seem to have a significant impact on the biomass industry that is fast growing across the country: a state-sponsored study out of Massachusetts said that biomass plants released more greenhouse gases over time than coal.

Could this be possible? Biomass operators, as well as federal and state governments, have said that biomass is renewable because it uses wood waste that would otherwise be discarded. And that the trees that are cut down would usually be replanted anyway so that the carbon used up by burning the waste would be restored.

The study received a lot of media attention, and Massachusetts officials said they were having second thoughts about providing incentives to biomass plants.  Some environmental groups said, “I told you so.”

Truth is, the study is fundamentally flawed. The study assumed that biomass plants would burn wood from whole trees, as well as trees that wouldn’t have otherwise been cut down if they weren’t being used for biomass. Instead, most current and planned biomass plants around the country use wood waste, not whole trees. The Massachusetts report, in its back pages, even acknowledges that biomass technologies look “favorable when biomass waste wood is compared to fossil fuel alternatives.”

The report is fundamentally flawed because it got the fundamental practices of the biomass industry wrong.

The Biomass Power Association is asking for an apology from the report’s authors, saying the report is a subject of “grave concern.”

The National Alliance of Forest Owners said that the study is wrong and “the prevailing science is clear on the carbon benefits of producing energy from sustainable forest biomass as compared to fossil fuels.”

And the Telegram in Worcester, Mass., said the report is just one of many studies to come on the burgeoning biomass industry and that the newspaper does not believe “one six-month study should overturn years of state policy.”