Canadian Biomass Magazine

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Here We Go Again

Two steps forward, one step back. As the biomass sector continues to move forward as an important tool in the fight against climate change, there have been recent attacks that biomass is “dirtier than coal,” an argument most thought behind us.


November 29, 2012
By John Tenpenny

Two steps forward, one step back. As the biomass sector continues to move forward as an important tool in the fight against climate change, there have been recent attacks that biomass is “dirtier than coal,” an argument most thought behind us.

Recently in the U.K., government plans to subsidize wood-fired power stations have drawn the ire of environmental groups such as Greenpeace that say power stations that burn trees can be more damaging to the environment than coal-fired generating plants and lead to carbon debt.

Response from the industry has been swift and emphatic. With input from the Wood Pellet Association of Canada and the BC Bioenergy Network, the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) issued a statement regarding the sustainability and carbon neutrality of biomass.

“Choosing fossil fuels over biomass does irreversible damage to our climate and limits society’s opportunities to switch to renewable energy. Leaving unmanaged forests, however, is a poor option as it would deepen the carbon debt created by prolonged burning of fossil fuels.”

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Paul Thompson, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association (REA) in the U.K., which is part of the “Back Biomass” campaign, told the media that even when the biomass supply chain is factored in, its carbon footprint is dwarfed by that of coal, something the government is well aware of. That is why as part of its 2011 Renewables Obligation Banding Review, Britain’s government suggested biomass energy could contribute up to 21% of its renewable energy goals by 2020.

He also argued that it’s wrong to claim that biomass leads to “carbon debt.”

“With sustainable forestry and the use of a mixture of biomass sources, carbon debt can be avoided altogether. Many forests around the world are actually in carbon credit as a result of better management linked to biomass energy use.”

Greenhouse gas emissions regulations are also playing a role at home in providing Canadian pellet producers an opportunity to grow the domestic market by supplying coal power plants, which have to meet new emissions regulations, starting in 2015.

According to Dr. Chuck Ray, an associate professor of wood operations at Penn State University, the rhetoric the biomass industry is hearing from NGOs might sound familiar.

In this issue’s Final Thoughts column (page 30), Ray argues that misleading information about sustainable forestry, bioenergy and how the carbon cycle works is, unfortunately, all too prevalent.

“In fact, the use of misleading “carbon deficit” accounting seems to be just the latest angle at stopping forest harvesting, period. Just like “clearcutting” in the 1980s and “endangered species” in the ’90s, “carbon deficits” is the cause célèbre for those who would like to see a day when no forest tree is ever cut down. But this too will pass, and in the end, we’ll benefit from the knowledge gained by further, more balanced research into the workings of forest ecosystems and the carbon cycle.”

John Tenpenny, Editor
jtenpenny@annexweb.com


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