Thursday 19 August 2010

America says no - Ireland says YES to biomass

A full-page article appeared in the Sunday Times on 15th August under the heading "America says no to biomass". It concerns a planned 50MW biomass power station in Massachusets. The plant would power 45,000 homes with a carbon-neutral biomass supply.
The principal cause for objection is that the plant would "destroy" trees, and it is referred to as an incinerator.

The objectors seem to not accept the fact that trees are a renewable crop. This reeks of NIMBYism. Burning trees for energy use is a perfectly reasonable use of biomass resources, as is the printing of newspapers. The carbon-dioxide emitted during the burning of wood is sequestered by the trees as they grow, in a sustainable carbon cycle.

Objectors have also seized upon a report from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, who provide the following helpful update on their Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study: "Manomet has issued a statement to aid in the interpretation of some of the misleading press coverage that followed the release of the report...One commonly used press headline has been ‘wood worse than coal’ for GHG emissions or for ‘the environment.’ This is an inaccurate interpretation of our findings."

The term incinerator is a rather negative way to describe a biomass power plant. Would a coal power plant be referred to as an incinerator? If we do not embrace biomass as a renewabe fuel for electricity, then, indeed, coal and peat "incinerators" are the very real prospect of our future electricity needs.
In Ireland, the main use of biomass in the electricity sector will be the displacement of peat and coal in our existing power plants with 30% biomass fuel by 2015.
This will be done from a combination of sustainable Irish biomass fuels. Biomass will come from well managed farm forests, from new energy crops such as willow and miscanthus and from other sustainable biomass.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the above response to the Sunday Times article. False and simplistic conclusions drawn from published research such as the Manomet report present everyone in the bioenergy sector with a real challenge. This is made worse when political pressure is applied from various sources (though I'm not qualified to comment on the particulars of the Massachusetts case). The word 'incinerator' is quite emotive, especially in Ireland, and holds mainly negative connotations for the public whether rational or not. NIMBYism is always going to be a factor that any sizeable project must contend with, and there are always going to be those who are ideologically opposed to cutting down trees for use in a power plant. Therefore, it behoves the biomass industry to make clear the positive environmental, social and economic aspects of having a strong biomass industry in Ireland and across the EU. Energy crops such as Miscanthus and Willow grow well in the Irish climate and these together with well-managed farm forests will reduce our CO2 emissions as fossil fuels in Ireland and elsewhere are replaced. Statements such as 'biomass worse than coal' only hold up the real progress we need to be making. It is unfortunate that a headline such as this will grab the attention of a casual observer but the demonstrable benefits must also be made clearer.
    Eamon O'Riordan (JHM)