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By Genevieve Fraser
A study commissioned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and released last week by the Manomet Center for Conservation Studies claims that power generated by the burning of biomass is worse for the climate than producing power from coal.
The Manomet study concludes that somehow coal is cleaner than wood by neglecting to include the other greenhouse gases that are released by burning coal - including the acid rain producing sulphur. In addition, determining a carbon footprint includes assessing more than the elements released at the time of its use. A carbon footprint also involves the process needed to extract that resource.
The Manoment study looked at the process of extracting wood but failed to include the process needed to extract coal which involves deeper and deeper mining operations, or removing mountains through deforestation where entire forests are removed and burned and rocks and soils blasted to smithereens. In extracting coal, massive equipment expends massive amounts of fuel, and all too often lives are lost. In short, mining for coal creates an ecological catastrophe.
Compare extracting coal to the process undertaken by a local logging company selectively harvesting trees from the woods while upholding environmental safeguards overseen by a forester with an approved forestry plan. (Clear-cuts are typically applied to monocultures - plantations of trees not native to New England - or trees that are at risk of disease and fire.) And though oil is less "dirty" than coal, the carbon footprint needed to extract it should also be part of the equation - as exemplified by the BP horror show in the Gulf.
Another consideration is the long-distance travel needed to bring coal and oil to Massachusetts markets.
A tip-off that the state of Massachusetts is playing politics with their findings is found by comparing the state's press release to a press release issued by the Forest Guild, one of the major contributors to the Manomet report. One would think they are discussing two different studies.
"New Study Demonstrates the Climate Benefits of Sustainable Use Forest Biomass for Thermal Energy in Massachusetts," reads the headlines dated June 10, 2010.
"A new report released today confirms for the state of Massachusetts that sustainably using woody biomass from forests to replace oil heat can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A team led by Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (Manomet), including the Forest Guild, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, the Biomass Energy Resource Center, and private consultants, worked to answer questions about forest biomass and carbon for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). The study looked at how much wood might be available in Massachusetts and the carbon impact of using wood for energy. The Forest Guild contributed to the study by providing information on the potential impacts of biomass harvesting and guidelines for ensuring the sustainability of biomass harvesting."
"The team’s study of biomass availability showed that based on the best available economic data, between 150,000 and 250,000 green tons of forest biomass could be utilized. This would be enough biomass to supply as many as 16 typically sized thermal energy facilities in the state," the Forest Guild statement asserts. "Wood initially releases more CO2 per unit of energy than fossil fuels, but that CO2 is sequestered as the forest regrows. Therefore, the climate benefits of using sustainably harvested biomass increase significantly over time. Using forest biomass yields greenhouse gas reductions within approximately five years when it replaces thermal energy from oil and within approximately 20 years when it replaces electricity generated from coal. The carbon account varies depending on how the biomass is harvested, which the report describes in detail."
Note: Genevieve Fraser is an Independent candidate for state representative for the 2nd Franklin District.