|For the purposes of this
discussion, the term “biomass” refers to forest/woody biomass and/or the
burning of construction and demolition debris. This policy dos not apply
to agricultural waste as fuel, algae crops, or farm crops which may
include switch grass, woody herbaceous crops, short rotation woody crops
such as willow. These topics are addressed in other Sierra Club energy
What is Biomass Energy?
What is Biomass Energy? Biomass energy is the production of energy
(electricity; liquid, solid, and gaseous fuels; and heat) from
biomass. Biomass may be any organic matter including dedicated energy
crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crop residues, aquatic
plants, wood and wood residues, animal wastes and other organic waste,
and construction and demolition debris.
Currently in Massachusetts most biomass that is proposed to be
burned is either from forest and timber products (woody biomass) or
construction and demolition debris.
MA Regulatory Status
Because biomass has been defined under current statute and
regulation as “carbon neutral” and “renewable”, biomass plants are
being promoted aggressively by the state and energy speculators toas
"green" energy. With the passage of the Green Communities Act and
other regulatory initiatives, biomass became classified as renewable
energy and became eligible for incentives to promote its development,
including eligibility under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS).
Because CO2 emissions from most types of biomass plants are not
counted, some coal-fired plants in MA are even considering converting
to partial or total biomass energy. While this may take such plants
emissions "off the books" it does not take them out of our atmosphere.
This would result in a net increase of carbon emissions.
Environmental Impacts and Global Climate Change Leading climate
research scientist call for an immediate reduction now of 2 to 3
percent per year in carbon emissions in order to avoid reaching the
“tipping point” and to stave off the worst impacts of global climate
change. A recent study for the G-8 summit found that even the richest
nations are not on track to meet a “danger threshold’’ of limiting
temperature rises to below 2 degrees Celsius. A massive net release of
carbon now from biomass may make it impossible to achieve these goals.
The Sierra Club has very serious concerns over the administration’s
policy to promote large-scale biomass in the commonwealth as a means
to reach renewable energy targets. The recent "hold" (December 2009)
placed on new facilities eligibility for renewable energy credits
pending the outcome of a newly commissioned state study does not
address the multiple plants already proposed in MA.
Impacts of Biomass Energy include:
- Large scale biomass used primarily for electricity generation is
extremely inefficient and emits 1.5 times as much CO2 than a
coal-fired power plant.
- Claims of “carbon neutrality” for biomass do not account for
externalities and full lifecycle accounting of carbon, including
harvesting processing and transportation of fuels. Truckloads of
biomass fuel would need to be transported on regional roads, adding to
diesel particulate pollution and additional fuel use.
- Large scale biomass calls for the harvesting of millions of trees
on tens of thousands of acres - some of it on state forest lands.
Multiple facilities proposed in MA all claim competing areas for
harvesting fuel at a rate that is not sustainable.
- Biomass consumes and removes organic forest material, including
that which would normally remain behind and contribute to the forests
ongoing ability to sequester carbon.
- Burning biomass can release carcinogenic substances and
particulates in our air water.
- Biomass facilities evaporate and/or otherwise use massive volumes
of water to operate and can impact rivers, streams, and water
The Sierra Club has significant concerns over the production of
energy from biomass, including the net emissions of CO2 and airborne
toxins, the inefficiency of biomass energy production, impact on
ecosystems and public health, and assumptions made regarding “carbon
neutrality” of such operations.
The Sierra Club opposes the unsustainable exploitation of forest
ecosystems and all biomass energy generation processes which
contribute to the destruction of existing forests, or jeopardize the
reestablishment or protection of biological corridors to link isolated
forest stands. The Sierra Club opposes projects which rely upon
ecologically destructive clear-cutting, in-wood chipping where
excessive amounts of biomass are removed from the land, and
conversions to non-native species which undermine native
The Sierra Club believes there is little likelihood that the
current energy resource potential for forest biomass can be increased
sustainably. Generally, the use of this material as biomass for
commercial energy production creates demand for the byproducts of poor
forest management and logging practices, and increases the pressure to
disturb wild forest ecosystems. Some very small scale
biomass-to-energy projects may be acceptable under strictly controlled
conditions, but we are not confident the regulatory or mitigation
framework exists to achieve this goal. This view is reinforced by the
recent decisions to not require environmental review for plants that
will harvest millions of trees from tens of thousands of acres of
forest, as well as burn construction and demolition debris which
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