Felling Forests for Profit

Welcome back to my blog, and Happy Halloween!

This week, I’m picking up where I left off talking about deforestation from biomass. There are lots of states that harvest trees for biomass energy and wood pellets, some of these include: Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Oregon and California. By far, America’s southern states are the key battleground forests that suffer the most deforestation from the high demand of the wood pellet and biomass energy industries.

There are a number of factors that drive the demand for forest bioenergy in the south. Some states like Virginia adopted a program to convert coal plants to woody biomass. Georgia and Florida both have utility-scale biomass plants that require copious amounts of local wood to generate baseload energy every day. In addition, Cleco Power’s “Madison 3” now co-fires woody biomass with its massive 641MW “petroleum coke” power plant in Louisiana.

EIA SouthForests

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Several states, especially those in the South Census region, have increased their electricity generation from biomass. These states have ample forest resources, generally poor wind resources, and relatively unfavorable solar resources (compared to the Southwest), making biomass among the more readily available renewable energy resources in the region.”

Essentially, under Obama’s “all of the above energy” policy, the EIA has taken the “profitable” position, (siding with big utility companies) that burning forests for “clean energy,” is the most reliable source of renewable energy in the south. That’s not true, I’ll argue EIA’s slanted position all day long. If Germany can produce a boatload of solar, so can the South.

We all know that most of America’s utility power companies are opposed to solar energy because its in direct competition with their business model. For instance, Florida Power & Light (FPL) just recently lobbied and changed the rooftop solar laws to make it illegal to use solar power during power outages like hurricane Irma, which left thousands of solar users miffed. If you sit back and look at the big picture, these utility companies are leveraging forest biomass as another fuel source to keep their current (and future) power plants operational. It’s a business that’s driven by the market, and unfortunately, our precious forests are caught in the middle.

If you sit back and look at the big picture, these utility companies are leveraging forest biomass as another fuel source to keep their current (and future) power plants operational.

I am starting to see some signs of hope that could loosen up some of the demand for woody biomass. Duke Energy, Florida’s second largest utility, just recently proposed $6 billion worth of  “renewables,” including solar powered batteries for utility-scale energy. Duke’s president, Harry Sideris proclaimed, “This is the first time we have had environmental groups involved and collaborating with us.” So what brought this on? The home battery; it’s a game-changer. People now have the ability to fall off the grid. The “early adopters” stand to gain the most money, that’s why Duke Energy is betting “all in” with the emerging solar-powered battery industry.


BiomassBeast
Illustration: Brett Leuenberger

 


Let’s talk about wood pellets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a bad idea. As I wrote before, the (subsidized) relationship between Enviva Biomass (North Carolina) and Drax Energy (United Kingdom) is so profitable for both, that neither company can walk away from using wood pellets because of their financial investments. The UK and EU governments, siding with their “cash-cow,” Drax, are handing out the low carbon economy as bits of candy to their (tithing) citizens; all at the expense of felling southern U.S. forests to burn as “green” energy.

Fortunately, when someone from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), like Dr. William Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University, calls out the woody biomass industry as junk science; I’m all ears. The report, by Moomaw and co-author, Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance, transcends the trivial argument of whether biomass is carbon neutral or not. Instead, they convey the holistic science of forests’ ability to respond and mitigate global climate change by naturally sequestering carbon within our biosphere.

The UK and EU governments, siding with their “cash-cow,” Drax, are handing out the low carbon economy as bits of candy to their (tithing) citizens; all at the expense of felling southern forests to burn as “green” energy.

I know I didn’t talk about forest certifications, I’ll cover that next week.

Here’s a great video to watch. Cheers

 

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