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Biomass Policy

Adopted by the Massachusetts Sierra Club, Oct. 24, 2013

Background

The Sierra Club opposes the unsustainable exploitation of forest ecosystems. The Sierra Club has significant concerns over the production of energy from forest or woody biomass, including the inefficiency of stand-alone, utility-scale, wood-burning biomass energy production, the resultant operational CO2 emissions, and the associated impacts on forest ecosystems, air and water quality, and public health. We are particularly concerned about the current surge in whole-tree harvesting for pellet manufacture to fuel biomass facilities both in the United States Europe and elsewhere. Claims of “carbon neutrality” by biomass and industry proponents are not supported by current science and modeling. The Sierra Club does not believe that significant biomass power generation is possible without compromising soil and forest health, nor are we confident that regulatory frameworks exist or can be developed to prevent the unsustainable exploitation of forest ecosystems for utility-scale biomass power generation. Regardless of the scale of a facility, it is the scale of harvesting that is most relevant because the impacts of multiple small-scale facilities could easily exceed that of larger facilities. Neither scenario produces a desirable outcome.

Whereas:

  • A federal court recently court struck down EPA’s exemption under the Clean Air Act of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial facilities burning biomass[1].
  • Native forests are a major source of fuel for biomass energy facilities,
  • Harvesting existing forests for biomass fuel, including pellet manufacture, adds net carbon to the atmosphere.
  • Net carbon dioxide emissions from bioenergy facilities exceed those from fossil fuels for decades even when biomass is sourced from fast-growing forest plantations[2]
  • Energy resources provided by forest biomass cannot be increased to provide a meaningful amount of energy without significantly increasing carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Leading climate change scientists call for immediate carbon dioxide reductions of 2 to 3 percent per year to avert the worst impacts of global climate change.
  • A net carbon dioxide increase at this time from biomass harvesting and burning may accelerate climate change impacts and make it difficult or impossible to meet CO2 reduction targets of 80% by 2050.
  • A typical utility-scale, electricity-only power station using forest or woody biomass as fuel:
    • Generates electricity at less than 25% efficiency, or less than a typical coal-fired power plant.
    • Emits 1.5 times as much operational CO2 than coal per unit of energy generated.
    • Emits 3 to 4 times as much operational CO2 than natural gas per unit of energy generated.
    • Has the potential for profound impacts on local and regional air and water quality.
    • Burns over one ton of wood per minute, requiring 13,000 tons of green biomass to generate one megawatt of biomass power for one year, or 35 tons of green wood per megawatt per day.
    • With unsustainable biomass harvesting and consumption, can reduce the ability of remaining and regenerating forest ecosystems to sequester carbon and destroy important natural habitats by reducing the amount of nutrients and woody debris available for recycling in the forest.

Be it resolved that the Massachusetts Sierra Club hereby:

  • Opposes biomass energy generation processes that contribute to the destruction of existing forests.
  • Opposes wood pellet manufacture that relies on the harvest of whole trees.
  • Opposes any government incentive or credit that could result the use of biomass as a fuel source for anything but the most efficient, small-scale, low-impact and experimental projects.
  • Opposes utility-scale electricity-generating biomass facilities whose fuel consists of woody biomass extracted from forest ecosystems.
  • Opposes regulatory classification of utility-scale woody biomass as “renewable” or “carbon-neutral”.
  • Encourages governmental and regulatory entities to remove eligibility for Renewable Energy Credits and all similar incentives or subsidies for utility-scale wood-burning biomass facilities.
  • Encourages full environmental review of all proposed biomass facilities regardless of scale.
  • Will review on a site-specific basis small-scale combined heat and power biomass-to-energy projects which avoid inefficient transportation of fuel stocks by providing distributed power directly to end users and on lands where they are carefully monitored and designed as part of a sustainable system similar to that required for Forest Stewardship Council certification.

[1]  Federal Court Follows Science in Striking Down EPA’s Biomass Emissions Loophole, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) July 12, 2013. http://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130712.asp

[2]  Colnes, A., et al. 2012. Biomass supply and carbon accounting for Southeastern Forests. Biomass Energy Resource Center, Montpelier, VT.  

 

See Also
Introduction to Biomass

Forests & Parks

Threatened Lands

Mt. Wachusett

Forest Management on Massachusetts Public Lands  

The Parks Protection Package, a legislative initiative

Other organizations:

Mass Environment Energy Alliance

 

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