Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Using Biomass for Economic Development and Forest Health By Genevieve Fraser

Using Biomass for Economic Development and Forest Health
By Genevieve Fraser
Genevieve Fraser
Imperative Energy, a company that provides biomass heat and power to the UK and Ireland and a recent recipient of the Global CleanTech award, has plans to expand its US presence by bringing a combined biomass – industrial development project to Massachusetts.  The Bio-Park would be based in the greater Taunton area in the Myles Standish Industrial Park, a 220 acre expansion which includes a proposed life sciences development area.  Taunton has been designated as a Massachusetts Platinum Level Bio Ready Community with the ability to accept biotech projects based on available property, building space, board of health regulations and zoning. 

According to trade journal reports, the proposed Bio-Park would include a best-in-class Swiss technology biomass-fueled combined heat and power (CHP) plant, a wood pellet manufacturing unit and biopharma facility.  Imperative Energy has also partnered with a West Coast company to provide bioenergy options for industrial and commercial customers on the West Coast. 

As a candidate for state representative, I propose to follow the lead of the Taunton Office of Economic and Community Development in utilizing biomass and other renewable resources to power economic development.  The region should investigate economic development opportunities that could utilize the wood waste from the 200,000 plus acres of public and private forests in the 2nd Franklin District and beyond.  Rather than utilize this sustainable resource to supply power to the grid, use it as a resource to power dedicated uses with district heating for municipalities, business and industry.  By offering inexpensive heat and power options, you provide a reason for business and industry to locate here that would complement the other assets the region provides such as a rail system, interstate highways, plus an educated workforce and nearby state colleges that could offer industry-specific training.

Tangled invasive species Rte 2 Erving, MA
Along with the obvious economic incentive, there’s another reason to turn to biomass, namely, the health of the forest.  Infestations of invasive species as well as diseases such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle and Hemlock Wooly Adelgid are rapidly advancing on the state’s forest which is now over 90% mature with a “closed forest canopy.”  Invasive species and diseased trees should be removed and incinerated which, in turn, will allow new, healthier regenerative growth.  A case in point can be easily spotted if you take a drive around the Windsor Dam at the Qubbin Reservoir Watershed where stands of what should be evergreens have instead turned rust red, dead from an infestation of Red Pine Scale, a mite like insect that can suck the life out of formerly majestic forest species.

Red Pine Scale at the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed in Massachusetts
The fact is Massachusetts is awash in wood-waste that used to be disposed of in landfills where it decomposed and generated deadly methane gas.  Today, with landfill space at a premium, wood waste is now banned. Meanwhile, with ice and snow storms, the 2011 tornado and other wind events, sawmill residue, land clearings for construction, discarded pallets, roadside and power line trimmings and a host of other sources, the wood keeps piling up.  According to David Celino, the state fire warden, the state’s 3 million acres of forests are currently the equivalent of a tinderbox because of the lack of significant snowfall, the hundreds of thousands of dead trees and limbs from the natural disasters that have dried out on forest floors, and the historic high temperatures.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation and outright bogus claims about the use of and harvesting of biomass for electrical and thermal (heat) generation.  “Stop incinerating our forests” is the battle cry.  The boogieman raised is that allowing biomass plants will result in deforestation – with landowners in cahoots with logging operators to strip the forests for burning.  The truth does not match up to the propaganda scare tactics. 

According to a MA-DOER study in 2002, there is over 2.5 million tons per year of available wood waste in Massachusetts.  But as recent events in western Massachusetts have made clear, the extent of tornado-damaged debris alone is staggering.  Surrounding states can also supply millions more.  Combined heat and power biomass plants dedicated to serving the needs of business, municipalities and industry are an outlet for this wood waste, a practical solution which provides jobs and generates income for local economies while replacing fossil fuels.

Isn’t it time we stopped listening to the fear-mongers.  The state of Massachusetts needs the availability of Biomass CHP facilities to deal with excess wood waste, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, revive our local, rural economies, and manage the forest so that it is less prone to disease and fire and is better able to provide a wide-diversity of forest habitat for wildlife.

NOTE: Genevieve Fraser is a Democratic candidate for state representative for the 2nd Franklin District and is a recipient of a Massachusetts Environmental Commendation.  Fraser serves on the board of the Massachusetts Wood Producers Association and is a former planner for the Private Industry Council and environmental technical writer and has served as an aide to retired state Senator Robert D. Wetmore.

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