Biomass Worse Than Coal

SUBHEAD: Oops! New study indicates use of biomass as alternative energy source has bigger CO2 footprint than conventional coal. Image above: Coal plant amongst the trees. Photo by Steve Ringman in Seattle Times from (

By Daniel Kessler on 12 June 2010 in - (

Massachusetts has a law mandating a portfolio of renewable energy, including energy derived from wind, solar, and biomass. But a new study says that replacing coal power with biomass will actually increase the amount of CO2 emitted, throwing a wrench in the state's plan and casting some doubt over the utility of using biomass on national scale and the inclusion of biomass titles in the energy bills now being negotiated in Congress.

The study from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences finds that the replacing coal power generation with that from biomass would result in 3 percent greater emissions by 2050.

From the AP:

Biomass has long been part of the state's portfolio of renewable energy sources, along with solar, wind and geothermal energy. The Patrick administration has already invested $1 million to jump-start four proposed wood-burning plants in Russell, Greenfield, Springfield and Pittsfield, as it tries to reach the state-mandated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Massachusetts Environmental Secretary Ian Bowles said Thursday the state is now rethinking that policy, including taxpayer incentives for wood-burning plants.

"Now that we know that electricity from biomass harvested from New England forests is not 'carbon neutral' in a timeframe that makes sense given our legal mandate to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we need to re-evaluate our incentives for biomass," he said in a statement accompanying the report.

The Waxman-Markey bill that passed through the House last year included language that would ultimately create a market for small-diameter trees, brush and forest slash to be used as biomass fuel. Some advocates want even greater federal incentives for biomass, such as woody biomass from federal lands to qualify as renewable feedstock for biofuels production.

Keep an eye on the Senate climate bill to see how biomass might be used and what incentives are given to it.


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