Fueling Misplaced Outrage

By Bob Cleaves | July 01, 2013

Biomass opposition is back, continuing a misleading and counterproductive campaign, “Our Forests Aren’t Fuel.”

The latest battleground of the campaign is the wood pellet industry, specifically the shipping of wood pellets overseas for use by biomass plants in Europe. The campaign kicked off with a splashy Wall Street Journal article questioning the practice of shipping pellets overseas. While the biomass, managed forestry and pellet industries are somewhat distinct and serve different purposes here in the U.S., we are all siblings in the larger bioenergy family. Attacking all these industries at once allows our opposition to further confuse the complex issues surrounding biomass.

The real shame is that a national conversation on bioenergy and how it fits into the nation’s complicated energy equation is long overdue. No one is saying that biomass will or should eventually power the entire country. But, as I’ve said countless times before, it’s an important part of the energy portfolio that reduces the use of fossil fuels and our dependence on foreign energy sources. It also contributes to sound environmental practices by providing an outlet for wood residue materials that can worsen forest fires, clog landfills and emit the harmful methane gas during decomposition.
On the economic side, biomass allows local communities to generate jobs and harness the local materials that are available to it. Just last month, Biomass Power Association member ReEnergy Holdings held the grand opening for a new facility in Fort Drum, N.Y.

The new ReEnergy Black River facility earned wide praise for a number of reasons. The new facility creates more than 30 full-time jobs in the rural North Country region of New York State, supporting nearly 150 additional logging positions. ReEnergy’s lease-to-own wood chipper program is enabling 14 local logging companies to expand their market offerings, while working toward even greater profits. One local logging operation estimates that it will be able to sell around 60,000 tons of tree bark and limbs each year—materials that are otherwise unusable and would rot in a landfill—to ReEnergy for its new biomass facility.

On the day of its opening, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lauded ReEnergy Black River as “the future of energy in New York State.”

ReEnergy also made news last month when it became the first company solely devoted to electricity production to be certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative 2010-2014 standard. In voluntarily seeking this third-party certification from SFI, ReEnergy has made a formal commitment to procure its forest materials from qualified logging professionals who utilize best management practices and operate with an ethic of land stewardship that integrates reforestation, and protects the long-term quality of soil, air, water resources, biological diversity and aesthetics.

Biomass, managed forests and pellet companies don’t need SFI certification to show their commitment to sustainability. But companies like ReEnergy, which put the time and effort into earning the certification, demonstrate that biomass is fully able to comply with stringent and widely recognized sustainability standards.

In a sound rebuttal to the original Wall Street Journal article, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, whose family owns and operates 2,500 acres of private forests in Georgia, wrote: “Just as musicians are passionate about their craft, independent forest owners are passionate about the art of land management. Our mantra is to leave the land in better shape than when we found it. Not only do we care about this from aesthetic and recreational perspectives, but for many it is good business to care.”

This is exactly what we want the biomass opposition to understand: for the bioenergy industry, sustainability is not a window treatment – it’s our business. So "rock on," Chuck, and everyone involved with biomass.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association