Thursday, December 9, 2021
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Saturday, October 9, 2021
Wood Pellets? Hawaii 'Green' Energy Scam is Dirtier Than Coal
By Selected News Articles @ 6:53 PM :: 2117 Views :: Hawaii County , Honolulu County, Energy, Environment

Editor’s Note: Hu Honua on the Big Island and AES on Oahu are both proposing to burn wood to generate electricity. (See: LINK)  NRDC explains that wood burners actually produce more CO2 than coal. 

How the Biomass Industry Sent “Sustainability” Up in Smoke

by Sasha Stashwick, Natural Resources Defense Council, July, 2019

Countries around the world are seeking alternatives to fossil fuels. Energy efficiency, genuine zero-emission renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and smart resources like batteries that can store electricity until it’s needed are cheaper than ever and deploying fast. But one technology gets grouped with other renewables but doesn’t belong: biomass.

Biomass refers to burning plant matter for energy. It’s particularly harmful to the environment when biomass from forests—aka trees—is burned for electricity. Harvesting wood for energy production worsens climate change immediately, and the harms it causes can persist for many decades or even centuries. It also endangers the very ecosystems we rely on to help stabilize global temperature rise and make communities more resilient to climate change. Biomass proponents argue that so long as trees are sourced “sustainably,” policymakers can ignore these impacts. The reality is that their sustainability claims simply greenwash climate pollution and forest destruction.

The biomass industry typically uses one of three tricks to pull the “sustainability” veil over its climate and forest impacts—or all three at once! First, the industry emphasizes that it only sources wood from “working forests,” “managed forests,” or forests with “sustained yield” management practices. Second, it touts that its biomass has been certified under some sustainable forestry scheme, such as the Sustainable Biomass Program. Third, it assures policymakers that the wood it burns is just “waste” or “low grade wood” or otherwise “unmerchantable.”

Let’s take these one by one.

1. If biomass harvest does not exceed forest growth, biomass can be treated as carbon neutral.

The biomass industry often defines “sustainability” as sourcing wood from “working forests,” “managed forests,” or forests with “sustained yield” management practices. These industry terms feature a common assumption: that if biomass harvest does not exceed forest growth in a given sourcing area, policies can treat the biomass as a “zero-carbon” or carbon beneficial fuel at the point of combustion—in essence, on par with solar and wind. This assumption is erroneous and has been soundly debunked by scientists.

Sustainable forestry may be based on ecological and other management considerations, but carbon accounting is not one of them. Even when forest growth and removals are considered (i.e., “sustained yield”), sustainability criteria fail to fully account for net changes in carbon emissions from forest biomass—i.e. what would have happened to forest carbon in the absence of harvesting biomass had the forest been allowed to continue growing—and cannot be justified scientifically as a proxy for carbon accounting.

Here’s what the science actually says:

Per unit of energy, all existing biomass power plants emit more CO2 from their smokestacks than coal plants. Thus, the inevitable initial impact of replacing coal with forest biomass in power stations is to increase CO2 levels in the atmosphere. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings reduces the amount of carbon stored in the forest, even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted immediately and kept intact. Taken together, this means it can take anywhere from decades to over a century for biomass energy systems to begin to deliver any climate benefits whatsoever.

The worst impacts on the climate come when biomass-fueled power plants burn whole trees. But even when biomass energy is generated by burning genuine forestry residues, the result is still more climate pollution for decades. Thus, any climate benefits that come with burning forest biomass are a) highly theoretical; and b) come far outside critical timeframes for dramatically cutting emissions and averting climate disaster.

2. We’re “green.” Just look at our sustainability certification!

Years of on-the-ground investigations have shined a spotlight on the realities of biomass supply chains, including sourcing biomass from clearcuts of mature hardwood forests, to the vast quantities of whole trees getting ground up into pellets to be shipped around the world and burned in power plants. It’s hard to look at the images from these investigations and conclude that burning forest biomass for energy is in any way good for the environment. So the biomass industry went out and got themselves a sustainable certification scheme to provide some “green” cover.

The Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP), used by wood pellet manufacturing giants like Enviva and their top customers, such as Drax Power in the UK, to certify their biomass, was created in 2013 by biomass companies to provide assurances that their wood pellets and other biomass fuel are sustainable and legally sourced. Unfortunately, from the start, this certification scheme was dominated by industry and built using a self-policing approach that has resulted in increased carbon emissions, accelerated loss of natural forests, and harm to local communities. It amounts to little more than a smokescreen for forest destruction, as detailed in our report about its deep flaws and deficiencies.

But it’s not just that the SBP is like leaving the fox to guard the henhouse. None of the sustainable forestry certifications programs—even the most rigorous programs, which NRDC supports—include a carbon accounting mechanism. It's simply not what they were created for. As such, “sustainable forestry” or “environmentally sustainable” practices, while plausibly beneficial for timber management or ecosystem/wildlife protection, cannot be treated as providing evidence that biomass harvested for energy production is carbon-beneficial.

3. We only burn the trees that no one else wants.

The final trick deployed by the biomass industry is to assure policymakers that the wood it burns is just “waste wood” or “low grade wood” or otherwise “unmerchantable.” But feedstock categories that have become codified in biomass regulations are carry-overs from an entirely different industry. Forestry industry terms (e.g. “thinnings,” “unmerchantable trees”) may make sense in the context of traditional forest products—lumber, pulp and paper, plywood, and so forth—but these terms were never intended to communicate anything whatsoever about the net carbon emissions associated with different types of woody biomass in the context of energy production or climate policy. What is a “waste,” “residue,” or otherwise “low-value” wood product in traditional forest product markets still emits CO2 when burned as fuel for electricity generation, and it is scientifically indefensible to assume otherwise.

Further, when you decode this industry jargon into regular English, many of the terms are really just code words for trees. Yet, these feedstocks make up the bulk of what biomass power stations are burning. According to its own 2018 annual report, “thinnings” and “low grade roundwood”—aka trees—made up fully half of the biomass imported by Drax, and the majority of the biomass the company imported from the U.S. Southeast (60%).

The bottom line is that if policymakers are looking to “sustainability” claims to provide assurances about the carbon benefits of forest biomass, they are barking up the wrong tree. Burning forest biomass cannot reduce emissions compared with fossil fuels within timeframes relevant to averting the worst dangers of climate change. What can? Investment in genuinely clean and renewable energy and an ambitious global agenda to protect, restore, and expand forests and other natural ecosystems.

Links

TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote

2aHawaii

808 Silent Majority

ACA Signups Hawaii

Alliance Defending Freedom

Aloha Pregnancy Care Center

American Council of Trustees and Alumni

AntiPlanner

Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Astronomy Hawaii

Back da Blue Hawaii

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Better Hawaii

Broken Trust

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

ChinaTownWatch.com

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

DVids Hawaii

FIRE

Fix Oahu!

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Grassroot Institute

Habele.org

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Credit Union Watch

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Family Advocates

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federalist Society

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii Future Project

Hawaii Gathering of Eagles

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Homeschool Association

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii Legal News

Hawaii Life Alliance

Hawaii March for Life

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Smokers Alliance

Hawaii State Data Lab

Hawaii Together

HIEC.Coop

HiFiCo

Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

House Minority Blog

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

Investigative Project on Terrorism

July 4 in Hawaii

Kakaako Cares

Keep Hawaii's Heroes

Land and Power in Hawaii

Legislative Committee Analysis Tool

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Malulani Foundation

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui

Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group

MentalIllnessPolicy.org

Military Home Educators' Network Oahu

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

NAMI Hawaii

Natatorium.org

National Christian Foundation Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

NFIB Hawaii News

No GMO Means No Aloha

Not Dead Yet, Hawaii

NRA-ILA Hawaii

Oahu Alternative Transport

Obookiah

OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

OurFutureHawaii.com

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

PEACE Hawaii

People vs Machine

Pritchett Cartoons

Pro-GMO Hawaii

P.U.E.O.

RailRipoff.com

Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

ReRoute the Rail

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

Robotics Organizing Committee

Save Dillingham Airfield

School Choice in Hawaii

SenatorFong.com

Sink the Jones Act

Statehood for Guam

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Trustee Akina KWO Columns

UCC Truths

US Tax Foundation Hawaii Info

VAREP Honolulu

Waagey.org

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii

Yes2TMT