BPA: Proposed rule endangers forests, bioenergy goals

By Biomass Power Association | October 21, 2010

The Biomass Power Association today submitted extensive comments contesting a proposed ruling by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) on biomass, on the grounds that it will severely handicap the state’s ability to meet its renewable energy goals. The ruling would also have the unintended effect of placing the health of the region’s forests in jeopardy.

The proposed rule is based on a flawed study by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences that examines the effects of harvesting entire natural forests for energy production rather than the actual sustainable practices used by the biomass industry.

“Rather than tailor new policy to address the scope of the Manomet study, Massachusetts has proposed a rule that will have the sweeping effect of disqualifying almost 40 percent of the state’s current renewable energy supply, with no sound scientific or economic policy justification,” said Bob Cleaves, BPA president and CEO. “We implore Governor [Deval] Patrick to re-examine the proposal in light of the Manomet study and craft a narrower rule that allows biomass to grow while protecting the Commonwealth’s important natural resources.”

New England is one of the most forested areas of the United States, and biomass facilities have relied upon New England’s wood supply for decades. Massachusetts’ proposed definition of biomass fuel, BPA argues, would discourage sustainable forest management and restrict markets for low-grade wood and result in the acceleration of land clearing for development.

BPA bases its comments on the expert counsel of two outside bodies that thoroughly examined these concerns and evaluated the outcome this rule would have on the state. Neither of the group’s findings was positive. Below are brief summaries of each study; the full versions are posted at www.biomasspowerassociation.com

The DOER Rule Would Endanger New England Forests: The region’s leading biomass fuel experts at Innovative Natural Resources Solutions examined the biomass industry in New England and concluded that biomass energy provides a market for low-grade wood that promotes sustainable land management, makes forest ownership economically viable, and supports rural economies—benefits no other form of energy can provide.

“This (15 percent) limit serves as a disincentive to good forest management practices, particularly in regions without a stable market for low-grade wood, and runs counter to the goals of sustainable forest management,” wrote Innovative Natural Resources Solutions in its report “New England’s Biomass Markets: A Tool to Support Sustainable Forest Management.”

Innovative experts also found that the biomass industry could actually mitigate the loss of forests in the region caused by increased population and land conversion for development. Preserving these markets for biomass allows the forests of New England to continue providing important ecological benefits while sustaining rural economies.

The DOER Rule Would Endanger New England’s Biomass Industry—and the Wider Renewable Energy Industry: McHale Associates, one of the United States’ leading experts in biomass technology, inspected both the technically feasibility and reasonableness of the proposed rule in Massachusetts, which mandates certain efficiency levels. The experts concluded that efficiency is a function of technology and economics, and that while the industry should strive to be as efficient as possible, the mandates proposed by Massachusetts are unworkable and will result in the closure of biomass plants. This will prevent the growth of any new facilities—or jobs—in the commonwealth and throughout the region.

“Using a high efficiency standard for biomass power production is not reasonable, lacks economic availability, and assumes European-style markets and subsidies that are not found anywhere in the United States. The result of the proposed efficiency requirement will be to eliminate biomass as a ready, dispatchable, renewable energy power resource,” wrote McHale Associates in their “Biomass Technology Review.”

In the United States, biomass power is a $1 billion renewable energy industry with 80 facilities in 20 states and provides more than 14,000 jobs nationwide. Biomass utilizes wood waste materials—paper and furniture industry byproducts and forest floor debris, for example—as fuel for clean energy. Power plants are predominately located in rural communities, creating thousands of jobs and producing millions in revenue for small towns. Biomass power is a clean and abundant source of electricity that will allow states to pursue even more aggressive goals for increasing their use of renewable energy in the future.