Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Sky is not Falling, Biomass Makes it Cleaner asserts Russell Biomass Proponent

The Sky is not Falling, Biomass Makes it Cleaner asserts Russell Biomass Proponent
Biomass Could Make Local Year-Round Agriculture a Reality in Massachusetts
John Bos
By John Bos
Public Information Officer

Russell Biomass LLC
On June 13 an Associated Press story in the Greenfield Recorder reported that in “Looking to wean itself from foreign oil, Vermont’s capital and several other cities and towns are considering whether to create a wood-fueled district heating system for city buildings and schools, one into which residents and businesses eventually could hook up.”
Much further from home, the Associated Press also reported on May 5 that “The four-day meeting of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which began Thursday in Abu Dhabi was largely bullish on replacing fossil fuels.”
“The world's TOP SCIENTIFIC BODY concluded that renewable energy in the coming decades will be widespread and could one day represent the dominant source for powering factories and lighting homes,” according to a draft report obtained by The Associated Press.
Clean, renewable biomass
wood chips
“The report found that renewable energy — including solar, hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal and ocean energy — represented only about 13 percent of the primary energy supply in 2008. But its growth is picking up with almost half of new electricity generating capacity coming from renewables in 2008 and 2009.”
Preventing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from actively supporting the only renewable fuel that can deliver baseload (24/7) power to meet the increasing demand for electric power is a small, but well-organized and fervent group of anti-biomass opponents who have succeeded in duping the general public with unsupportable scare stories about an environmental Armageddon that would occur if we burned clean waste wood.
The sky is falling assertions by biomass opponents that air quality would be compromised ignores the just released State of the Air 2011 report by the American Lung Association that finds continued progress in cutting year-round particle pollution, compared to the 2010 report. “Thanks to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines,” the ALA reports, “cleaner air shows up repeatedly in the monitoring data, especially in the eastern U.S.”
Emissions from coal fired plants create acid rain
which damages Northeast forests and pollutes rivers
and streams
“Over 440 coal-fired power plants in 46 states are among the largest contributors to particulate pollution, ozone, mercury, and global warming” according to the ALA. “Their pollution blows across state lines into states thousands of miles away.”
This kind of scientific analysis is not welcomed by the “wood is worse than coal” crowd.
Coal mining explosion
It reminds me that air quality in Russell, Hampden County, western Massachusetts and much of New England comes from the coal-fired power plants in Ohio and the mid-west. Unfortunately, we live in an area that is in the path of an air stream that delivers the acid rain, sulfur and other emissions that are produced by burning coal. It is the reason that Connecticut s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and other states sued Ohio Edison for failing to clean up coal plants whose harmful emissions are carried by the prevailing winds to Connecticut and other New England states. In discussing the 2005 settlement, Blumenthal said that "Burning biomass instead of coal will literally save lives in Connecticut, as well as reduce incidence of asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Forest fires can be minimized with proper forest management
which reduces dead and dying trees and other hazards
“Burning firewood and trash,” the ALA State of the Air 2011 report continues, “are among the largest sources of particles in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions.” See the ALA’s position on residential wood combustion in a letter to the EPA at .
As for particle pollution the ALA gave monitored Massachusetts counties the following grades: Bristol, Essex and Middlesex – A: Berkshire, HAMPDEN, Plymouth and Worcester – B, and Suffolk Country – C.
McNeil Biomass Plant in Burlington, Vermont
Particulates and other pollutants are
"scrubbed" out of the smokestack
And once again, as in the last ALA State of the Air Report, Burlington, VT, the home of the 50 megawatt McNeil Generating Station biomass power plant, was one of only two Northeastern cities in the list of “cleanest U.S. Cities for Short-Term Particle Pollution, the other being Bangor, ME.  Burlington also remained on the list of the Top 25 Cleanest U.S. Cites for Year-Round Particle Pollution along with Bangor.

Click to enlarge
These facts do not dissuade biomass opponents; they only deepen their anti-biomass resolve. Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger, quoted in the May 20 issue of The Week wrote: “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
So who is to be the rational arbiter of what is fact and what is fiction (intentional or otherwise)?
NC Department of Agriculture
Russell Biomass, in anticipation of the new, stricter state biomass regulations, began and is currently analyzing the economic feasibility of the conversion of our 50MW biomass power plant into a large scale CHP project that could provide a range of productive waste heat options. One possibility (receiving substantial interest throughout the state) is a greenhouse facility that would support the “grow local” food movement, use our cooling process heat as well as a direct supply of CO2 (plants need CO2 to grow!), make it possible to meet the DOER’s new 40% efficiency standard, and greatly increase our job creation impact. 

Our goal is to provide:
§        environment benefits including the (1) consumption of 500,000 tons of the several million tons of waste wood generated annually (which no one has come up with any way to dispose of in an environmentally preferable way), (2) a , "carbon profile...very favorable compared to that of harvesting standing trees"  as stated in the Manomet study, (3) a reduction in the 80% of the money now leaving the state to buy fossil fuels;
§        an economically beneficial project for the Town of Russell (which would receive an average of $1.3 million a year in tax revenues plus additional TIF benefits); and
§        a “win-win” for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the DOER that would provide an example of the only kind of renewable energy baseload electric power project in the state’s new clean energy plan mix of renewables.

Biomass Energy Resource Center
Being a “rational arbiter” for a contentious public issue is, in this instance, the role of state government whose constituents include parties for and against biomass. Not an enviable task given the large and significant issues at stake. It has required a blend of balanced leadership, cautious consideration, public process and arduous policy development to address all sides of the arguments for and against biomass energy. 

Click to enlarge
The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 states that “All of our fossil-based energy sources — oil, natural gas, and coal — are derived from other regions of the country (e.g., the Gulf Coast or Western states) and other parts of the world, many of them unstable or hostile to the United States, (e.g., countries in the Middle East and Venezuela). Thus, all spending on fossil fuel energy,” the Plan says, whether to fuel power plants, buildings, or vehicles — flows out of state and fails to provide income to in-state businesses or employees. This exported economic value is significant, totaling almost $22 billion in 2008.”
State residents who have bought the “wood worse than coal” contagion might want to consider two things:
1.     In 2008, the Clean Energy and Climate Plan reports that “an average Massachusetts household spent about $5,200 for energy costs, of which about $1,700 was for heating (space and water), $1,300 for electricity, and $2,200 for gasoline. Almost all of these expenditures leave Massachusetts;” and that
2.     their misinformed total opposition to biomass supports the fossil fuel industry and efforts by respected environmental organizations to reduce our dependence on coal and petroleum.
From out here way beyond Route 128 we are watching a critical work in progress by the Patrick administration and counting on realistic and rational support for eligible biomass projects that meet the new state regulations.

John Bos
Public Information Officer

Russell Biomass LLC

Note:  John Bos is the past director of Arts and Performance at National Public Radio (NPR) and past Deputy Director at New York State Council on the Arts.

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