Biomass Power: A Lot to Be Thankful For

By Bob Cleaves | November 23, 2010

Just last month, I was in Stratton, Maine, (technically part of the town of Eustis, population 685) visiting a biomass power plant owned by Boralex. The plant provides well-paying jobs for many in the area, and I was lucky enough to witness these hard working Mainers in action.

In the woods, I watched loggers remove wood residue and byproducts from sustainably managed forests—forests that are so remote and unpopulated they are part of what Maine calls its “unorganized territory.” 

The plant itself was a beehive of activity—logging trucks hauling chips, conveyors delivering wood to the boiler, and the 50-megawatt turbine humming, creating power for the New England grid. Who says manufacturing is dead in this country? Some folks get excited by the majestic size of a wind turbine—for me, it’s the size of the wood pile.

And, at the Looney Moose Café down the road, I shared with plant workers some of the best potato chips I’ve ever eaten while discussing the necessity of biomass power in Stratton and throughout the rest of the country.

I know that biomass power has faced many battles this year, but sitting in the Looney Moose snacking on potato chips, which the waitress informed me were of the gourmet frozen variety, I realized that the biomass power industry has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

We still produce 50 percent of America’s renewable electrical energy. While it can be frustrating that wind and solar power continue to garner much of the media’s attention, a visit to Stratton Maine reminded me how very real the biomass industry is to renewable energy and rural economies across the nation. As for the waitress at the Looney Moose, the logger feeding slash material into the chipper, the boiler operator at the plant, they all know the importance of biomass power. This a world away from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule and Production Tax Credits. It’s our job, as an industry, to tell the real story of biomass and mobilize this growing chorus of support as more legislators, scientists and the public learn about biomass and all that we do.

In Stratton, it’s almost impossible to find a business that is unaffected by the plant, and it’s no different in other rural communities where biomass plants exist throughout the country. We have the ability to create many more Strattons, but only if government adopts responsible policies. We know the potential is huge, both to generate more power and to find a home for wood byproducts, the removal of which results in healthier forests and an incentive to keep the landscape as working forests and not shopping malls.

In Washington and among the states, our challenges are significant, and yet we have tremendous support from a wide range of interests, from forest owners to environmental groups. There is a shared vision in making sure this industry not only survives but grows. A new Congress is moving into the city come the new year, and with a new Congress could come a new discussion around energy policy. Next time you’re in Stratton, stop at the Looney Moose and make sure to ask for the potato chips.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association