Event Tackles Controversial Topics

By Rona Johnson
The Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo held Aug. 4-6 in Boston was everything we had hoped it would be. What we didn't expect was the diversity of the attendees. According to Jim Sampson, BBI International's registration manager, eight different countries and 38 states plus the District of Columbia were represented―not bad for a regional event.

I suspect that it was the subject matter and the first plenary session regarding the carbon neutrality and sustainability of woody biomass that drove attendance. The session was well-attended but unfortunately we weren't able to open it up to comments from the audience as I had earlier thought we would. I thought the dialogue amongst the participants-Moderator Dwayne Breger, director of renewable and alternative energy development for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources; Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners; Tom Walker, consultant/team lead for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences; Bob Perschel, northeast region director of the Forest Guild; and Michael Goergen, executive vice president and CEO of the Society of American Foresters-however, made up for the lack of audience participation.

It was obvious the presenters had differing views on the use of woody biomass, but instead of arguing they were respectful of one another and at the same time made their views known.

What I found most interesting was the discussion about forest landowners and the fact that they are able to do a better job of perpetuating forest lands when they have more options and markets. This goes against the claims that the use of woody biomass for renewable energy will lead to clear-cutting of forests. Why would forest landowners destroy all of their income in one fell swoop? That‘s akin to the idea that farmers aren't concerned about soil erosion and quality. If they don't take care of their land, then their land won't be as productive and they won't get the yields they need to profit.

I also attended all of the panel sessions in the biomass project development and finance track, most of which basically concluded that projects without abundant, affordable biomass supplies probably will have a tough time getting financing.

I was told that protestors had applied to local law enforcement to hold a demonstration and also that some people were handing out fliers, but I personally never saw or heard any of it. I would have been surprised if there had been a huge demonstration, however, as apparently the people against the use of woody biomass for renewable energy production have already gotten what they wanted in the form of the Manomet Center study, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' request for swift policy changes to the state's renewable portfolio standard in light of the study's findings, and the public meetings held regarding the study.

I just hope the policymakers in Massachusetts don't forget about the forest landowners, loggers and biomass project developers, and the potential for economic development the industry could bring to the state when they are making their decisions.