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Biomass Blunder: USDA Advocates Burning Wood For Electricity

Biomass Blunder: USDA Advocates Burning Wood For Electricity

It’s true, environmentalists can be a depressing bunch. Every day it seems like more reports surface about how harmful almost every action, purchase and decision we make is to the health of the natural world, which is why good news, when available, is significant.

Consider a recent post on the appropriately named Good Blog:

Which states could supply their own electricity using renewable energy alone? Most of them. Using data from the recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, the New Rules Project put together this map, showing the percentage of its own electricity needs that each state could generate with onshore and offshore wind power, hydroelectric and geothermal power, and rooftop photovoltaics.

This encouraging information only makes the topic of this post more confusing: The Department of Agriculture has proposed regulations that would expand a massive, misguided subsidy program that encourages the harvest and burning of trees for energy.

Burning wood for energy and heat is a very old, very dirty idea, and one that seems completely out of place in contrast to the promising growth of the solar and wind energy industries in the United States.

Nonetheless, the Center for Biological Diversity reports that “Dozens of large, dirty, wood-burning electricity facilities — staggeringly inefficient — are now being planned across the country. A single such facility would require increased logging on tens of thousands of acres of forest each year.”

Based on the flawed premise that any burning of wood is carbon neutral, electricity generated by burning trees and wood wastes — referred to as “biomass” — is counted as renewable energy by numerous state and federal programs intended to shift our reliance away from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, biomass burning is far from carbon neutral.

And while an area logged to fuel a biomass facility may ultimately grow back, it takes decades or even centuries for a forest to recapture as much carbon as is lost when it’s logged. Even worse, areas being targeted for this preposterous plan include some of the country’s most sacred old-growth trees, like Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Please act now to let federal officials know that tax dollars should not go to the timber industry and power companies to subsidize actions that pollute the air, undermine climate solutions, and contribute to deforestation.

Sign the Care2 Petition to Reverse Obama Administration’s Approval of Tongass Logging!

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Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - smcdevitt

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166 comments

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7:52AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

Burning wood does not have to be"Dirty" with todays technology you can use capture and sequestration to trap any. CO2 gas. You can buld a power plant and plant trees around it with the most mature trees that are ready to be harvested closer and as you go out the more younger ones at the end then as each secttion of trees get mature and ready to be cut you move out to the end replacing each tree that is cut with at first three then to you come to the end and then start over replacing each tree with two new ones. It should be set up so that to go from the middle to the end takes about 20-25 years. There would be 2 benifits besides the power supply one you add to the number of trees and two the trees would also help reduce any CO2 that would escape. We could/should also burn trash the same way any CO2 emissions can be trapped and put in the ground, The Ash can be compacted and be used as building material.

11:49PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thank you for info.

11:49PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thank you for info.

11:48PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thank you for info.

11:47PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thank you for info.

3:23AM PST on Feb 29, 2012

It makes sense to burn for electricity the scraps leftover from harvesting trees for lumber and/or pulpwood. It does not make sense to cut down healthy trees just to burn the whole tree to make electricity. We also need to BUY at a fair price the $20 trillion worth of fossil fuel reserves from the fossil fuel firms to save in the ground for posterity over the 20 years or so it should take to replace fossil fuel with sustainable energy.

3:23PM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

Sadly there is no such thing as perpetual motion, clean energy or infinite resources. There is however wasteful use of what we have either by profligate consumption or willful reproduction neither of which are sustainable by any form of imagined energy production! Simple bio physics indicates conversion of biomass into humans or animals to feed humans will at some point tip the sustainability balance beyond the reversible and the end result will equal whatever did for the dinosaur and some!

2:49PM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

We can and should use wood as a source of energy and we can do so without damaging the environment. We should not use old growth forests or anything like that but what we shoud do is to build a wood burning powerstation and plant trees all aroung it with the oldest trees those which are ready to be cut near it and as you go out more and more further away less mature ones. As cut a section down you replant on a ratio of at first 3-1 then after that 2-1 this way you have more trees then you started. When you get to the end say after 25 years you go back to middle and start again thus you have a perpetual source of renwewable energy source. Ok now what about the smoke and that from the burning wood well we not have technology that can reduce and even eliminate most CO2 from being given off and with the plant built inside a small forrest would do much to clean up any CO2 as well,

6:50AM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

Spay and neuter the human race especially politicians! Killing trees is a stupid idea as the trees lock up tons of CO2, burning them will only add to global warming by releasing this gas!

3:43AM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

Trees and other plants are very important. A world without them and without animals is it that what we want? Hopefully not. In my case, i love trees, plants and animals.
Other animals and plants have to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day). "We" destroy everything around us and "we" forget, that everything is important to survive, too.

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." (Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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