Biomass Power: A Power to be Defended

Things are looking up for the biomass industry.

After a couple months of challenging assumptions made in mischaracterized studies, we scored a huge victory in July as 114 influential environment and energy scientists from prestigious universities and environmental centers rallied around biomass. They urged key members of Congress to view biofuels as the valuable renewable energy source that they are. And they implored the U.S. EPA to reconsider its Tailoring Rules that equate biomass energy with that of fossil fuels.

Most important, the scientists explained-in scientific detail that was still easy for laymen to understand-how they account for biomass' "carbon neutral" status and its lack of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They even went so far as to say that biomass energy is good for the environment:

"Forests are our nation's primary source of renewable materials and second-largest source of renewable energy after hydropower," they wrote. "Sustainable development of new and traditional uses of our forests helps reduce GHG emissions and has the important benefit of providing economic incentives for keeping lands forested and reducing the motivation for land conversion.

"When wood removals are used to produce both renewable materials as well as bio-energy," the scientists continued, "the carbon stored in forest products continues to grow year after year, more than off-setting any processing emissions while at the same time permanently substituting for fossil fuel intensive materials displacing their emissions."

This letter could not have been timed better; in Massachusetts, misperceptions continue to spread.

Ian Bowles, Massachusetts secretary for energy and environmental affairs, recently wrote a letter instructing the state's Department of Energy Resources to draft new regulations that would impose stricter standards for biomass projects seeking to qualify for Massachusetts incentives. The proposal by Secretary Bowles, among other things, would require that biomass power projects provide significant near-term greenhouse gas dividends and includes a proposal that the state develop new carbon accounting rules for biomass power. Bowles' letter also calls for a clear definition of residues and waste woods and proposes that the greatest support be thrown behind plants that produce both heat and power.

Unfortunately, the secretary's letter does little to stop the misinformation spreading about biomass; instead, it continues to spread dangerous myths about our industry. These mischaracterizations must stop if we are to not only reach our energy potential, but to stay alive in the renewable energy game. It seems that while we know that biomass power is an energy source that derives from waste debris, such as branches and waste residue from timber harvests, and that biomass power is a renewable source that is carbon neutral, we need to continue to project the truths about biomass to fix the inaccurate view some have of our industry.

This letter from top scientists across the country was an encouraging sign for the biomass industry and the 14,000 men and women in this country who are employed by our industry. These scientists' ability to articulate why biomass is beneficial to the environment will work to quell the misinformation circulating about the industry and increase knowledge about what we do and, most importantly, why biomass power is an important energy source.

We must continue the fight. Biomass power associations and facility leaders must stress to media contacts and elected officials the many positive facts about biomass power to solidify our role in renewable energy. I, for one, fully believe we are capable of righting the myths and showing America that biomass power is both renewable and necessary in our country's energy conversations.

Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit