NAFO's Tenny keynotes Southeast biomass conference

By | November 03, 2010

The National Alliance of Forest Owners President and CEO David Tenny kicked off the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show in Atlanta by addressing what most of the 500-plus attendees would likely describe as a giant elephant in the room—the U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule, which if enforced as currently proposed, would no longer deem biomass combustion as a renewable energy generation method.

The rule could drastically affect the relationship between forest owners and biomass markets, Tenny said, as it treats biomass carbon emissions the same as fossil fuels, not taking into account the biogenic carbon cycle.

Tenny began his keynote address by emphasizing that the despite the increased use of biomass as an energy source, U.S.  forest stocks have been steadily maintained over the past 100 years—the nation’s total forest land base constitutes about 755 million acres—and total growing stock has actually increased by  50 percent in the past 50 years. “From a carbon context, which is very important to forestry, we are netting about 800 million metric tons from these forests, which is about 8 percent of all net carbon sequestration, net that occurs from all land uses so it’s very significant,” Tenny said. The products produced from the forestry industry are sequestering an additional 100 million metric tons per year, he pointed out, and there has been continuous replanting of trees for many years.  

Historically, the housing and paper/paperboard industries have been significant markets for the forest industry, but right now both are at an all time slump and the paper industry capacity is not expected to recover, according to Tenny.  These are two major markets that the forest industry has traditionally banked on, and as of January 2, 2011, the Tailoring Rule will negatively affect an additional market—biomass energy.

“Now, biomass is a regulated source of carbon opposed to a voluntary source of carbon offsets,” Tenny said. “In the forest products industry, just about every product has a residual use for energy. If it’s no longer economic or more efficient than a fossil fuel, that creates a very real consternation in terms of the marginal benefit that biomass energy is providing.  It could be the difference between a profit and a loss in such a razor-thin market, and it will have a real impact on existing capacity and investment in biomass energy today.”

 Tenny said forest owners were surprised at the final Tailoring Rule announcement, because it there was no indication in the draft rule that biomass energy would be regulated identically to fossil fuels. “That’s the disconcerting aspect of the rule that has all of us concerned, as it is the ROI (return on investment) for forest owners,—the carbon stored in products and the environmental benefit that come from these markets over time—taking that off the table poses a very real question: What are the comparative advantages to biomass energy over fossil fuel energy under this policy?”

Those in states with renewable portfolio standards looking to receive credit are aware that the EPA will regulate biomass carbon emissions and may choose other sources of renewable energy, Tenny pointed out. “Other sources won’t have this conflict, of where you’re getting a benefit on one hand but creating costs on the other hand.”   

Tenny encouraged attendees to educate their delegates of the impact the Tailoring Rule will have on their industry, and to seek an amendment that recognizes biomass carbon life cycles, measures forest carbon flux at a national scale, avoids differentiating between “good” and “bad” biomass, and fixes the problem now rather than deferring the solution.

“Are we [considered] green, or are we not?”  Tenny asked. “Six months we knew the answer to that question, now, we’re not sure. “