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Ohio is Ground Zero for Biomass Fight

 Submitted News Ohio is Ground Zero for Biomass Fight
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Several of Ohio’s coal-burning power plants plan to burn trees as a means of generating “biomass” electricity. In fact, Ohio is ground zero of a nationwide push by power companies to cut and burn the nation’s forests to generate power. According to Cheryl Johncox, executive director of Ohio forest advocacy group Buckeye Forest Council, “biomass in Ohio has the potential to be a huge sucking machine that eats up trees across the state and the eastern U.S.”

That’s unfortunate, because woody biomass generates significantly more CO2 than coal. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass are about 1.5 times higher than from coal and three to four times greater than from natural gas.

Even more troubling is the staggering scale of the proposed logging and burning. Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission (acronym: “PUCO”) is currently considering whether to permit several biomass power plants totaling up to 2100 MegaWatts (“MW”) of power. For the proposed plants to generate 2100 MW from wood, 42 tons would need to be burned every minute or 26,280,000 tons of wood per year.

What do these numbers mean? The proposals could mean cutting more than ten times Ohio’s current timber volume. To supply this much wood, all large and medium sized trees from one-seventh of Ohio’s public and private forests would need to be harvested each year just for burning.

Readers may also want to take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s recently released report discussing the push towards woody “biomass” in Ohio and elsewhere in the country.

For further information, updates, and to connect on this issue, visit Buckeye Forest Council’s website at www.buckeyeforestcouncil.org. You can also follow BFC on Facebook by clicking here.

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  • KSquared

    Ohio: the next Easter Island.

  • patient_zero

    This sounds like an Industrial Revolution solution, circa 1825, or at the very least reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ book “The Lorax. ”

    Please don’t bring in the Once-ler’s to cut down all our truffula trees!

  • If anyone knows me personally they know I’m a pretty positive guy, but when i see things like this its hard not to start to get bitter about humanity.

  • I know it isn’t April Fools Day, but after reading this… please tell me it’s a joke!

  • GreatOutdoors

    The Lorax is right.  Sadly, I don’t think we as a species will stop until every last usable resource available to us on this planet is sucked up.  The only reason why we have forests now is because we moved on to other, better, sources of energy in the 1800s (my home region in New England was nearly completely deforested by the end of that century, and you would never guess it now).  Now that those other energy sources are themselves being used up, I guess it’s back to the future, baby.
    And I have no confidence whatsoever in the Dept. of Natural Resources making the right move in this matter.  They seem to prioritize resource extraction over preservation or recreation no matter what (take a hike in Tar Hollow State Forest for an example).

  • Ok, so we are going to use a fuel source that produces more carbon dioxide emissions than coal.  Not to mention, it is this said fuel source that helps reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere.  So the carbon issues are just going to get worse.

    Come on Ohio, there are other biomass fuels that can be burned, ie. switch grass.

  • JedThorp

    Good write up Nathan.

  • HogRoaster

    Why would they do this?  My guess is there is some kind of poorly written “tax incentive” or subsidy to do so.

  • taxguy

    A few thoughts here:

    1) There appears to be no benefit whatsoever to biomass from this presentation and the only source quoted is a forestry council.  If it were so terrible, then no one would have any reason for proposing it in the first place. Where is the rest of the story? 

    2) Would all the biomass have to come from trees?  If burning paper and other manufactured wood or plant by-products that are not recycling-grade for energy keeps them from a landfill, I don’t think that’s so bad.   

    3) Also, burning coal releases more chemicals than just CO2 – I am no scientist, but I’d sure like to know whether biomass produces those kinds of contaminants (or other, equally harmful ones). 

  • JedThorp

    I believe that “biomass” may qualify for the “advanced energy” credits that are available in Ohio. 

  • HogRoaster

    I agree with Taxguy — in order to be an objective presentation, both sides of the story should be told.  I’ll agree with the premise that burning wood to generate electricity is a bad idea….but give me some more background on why this is happening.  All too often we look like fools when arguing for a valid cause but not knowing the opposition’s motivation for their actions.

  • Twixlen

    It’s called the Ohio’s Renewable & Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard law – where 25% of Ohio’s energy must be from renewable resources by 2025, and one half of the facilities located inside the state of Ohio. 

    Like it or not, wood is a renewable resource.

    ETA: I remember somewhere reading about this – they were discussing that the trees will emit a certain amount of carbon whether they live and die naturally, or are burned – and those amts of carbon are equal. It’s just a matter of mitigating the actual smoke produced, and I’m imagining they’ll have to have fancy scrubbers to comply with the latest Ohio EPA rulings.

  • Thanks for a thought provoking story Nathan.  Hopefully, at the very least this will get us thinking about how much energy we as Ohioans actually need.  It’s nice to be reminded that while I sit here and type this message (which requires energy), power is coming from a source that I don’t think about nearly often enough.  Of course the idea of burning nature for energy is abhorrent and companies are mostly considering it to feed our steady diet and keep things the way they are.  This will be at the forefront of my thoughts for awhile; thanks so much for informing us.

  • Ohio law requires power companies operating in the state to generate 12.5% of their Ohio-generated energy from renewable resources by 2025.  If a company were to burn woody biomass on the kind of scale proposed, it could meet its 12.5% requirement in just a few years.

    Where would this leave truly carbon-neutral renewables such as solar and wind?  Power companies would have little legal incentive to invest in these technologies.

    There are other forms of biomass that make more sense than trees. Certain grasses with deep root structures could sequester carbon in the soil, and renew in a matter of months, not decades (if not centuries).  They aren’t really available on a large scale right now, though.  In addition, the alkalinity and chlorine content often found in agricultural crops can cause firing problems in power plant boilers, like slagging, fouling and rusting.  Bark-free, woody biomass is low in alkalinity and chlorine compared to agricultural biomass and energy crops.  In other words, the trees are there and they don’t require expensive retrofits.

  • In addition, EPA is guilty of some faulty accounting methodology. EPA doesn’t count stack emissions of CO2 from biomass. Nor does EPA count carbon at the time the burner-destined trees are cut. In other words, biomass is considered carbon-neutral.

    If wood biomass is still considered carbon neutral by the time a federal cap-and-trade program gets passed (assuming one gets passed) there would be tremendous incentive to burn trees.

  • kalencap

    Thanks for the article.  Ohio does not need it’s forests burned for fuel.  And older trees support an ecosystem differently than younger trees if trying to look at them as a renewable resource.  Let’s hope there are further developments around this protecting state parks and the like.

  • herman

    Please understand that biomass power generation can, by definition, combust any biological matter.  Quite often this includes human or animal waste, but it requires a great deal of that to make a system financially viable (a system fired only from the sludge generated at a waste water treatment plant would require in excess of 250k people to operate at an acceptable level of efficiency).  If that human or animal waste is not burned it often ends up in landfills, as does wood waste from any facility that uses wood, i.e. paper mills or furniture factories.  So by utilizing these “waste” products we can stop mining the earth for ancient waste while we fill giant holes with our new waste.  Let’s skip a couple of steps and utilize a biological waste to energy system.  It does not make sense financially to cut down forests to burn the wood for electricity, that is a kinard and misleading to say that would happen.  These systems are intended to take local biological waste (normally within a county size area) and consume them to fire a boiler that will make steam to spin a turbine that will generate a turbine.  These are not “sexy” solutions but in an area where tipping fees to dump human waste increase as well as the environmental risks, it is often far cheaper and sensible to employ a biomass system.  We cannot miss the larger environmental picture here.  Installing a large wind farm or solar array while we make enormous methane generating landfills filled with biological waste misses the point.  There is not a silver bullet to the energy and climate change issues, but there is silver buckshot and biomass plants are part of the solution, not the problem.

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