Biomass plant approved: Good or Bad?

Posted by Trish Riley, May 13, 2009

I am really having a hard time understanding why our very progressive city is moving forward with the biomass plant instead of pursuing cleaner energy options such as expanding the solar feed-in-tariff program we recently implemented to great applause as a national leader. Burning our carbon sink – wood – seems destined for trouble as existing supplies are used up. It’s easy to imagine turning toward the beautiful tree canopy that blankets our city and surroundings as fuel source for this plant, and that doesn’t seem like a favorable future outcome.

Here are a few clips from a recent article:

“I really think that the citizens of Gainesville, Alachua County and Florida for that fact, will look back to this era and your leadership,” Commissioner Lauren Poe told commissioners and GRU leaders.

“This is all about transitioning to a more sustainable future,” said Jim Gordon, president of American Renewables said about his company’s decision to invest millions into biomass projects, including Gainesville’s.

No one is certain how much plant construction will cost — likely somewhere between $400 million and $500 million.

“The financial investment climate isn’t so great with major banks collapsing, but we think with the economic stimulus and given the improvements in the market, we are very confident we will fund this project,” Gordon said.

The plant is hoping to receive grant monies available for renewable energy projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Here are links to a couple of Time Magazine articles written by Matthew Grunwald, author of The Swamp, an acclaimed book about everglades destruction. Although these articles are primarily about the folly of using grain as a biofuel, I believe that using wood, as the Gainesville biomass plant proposes, may produce some of the same  consequences in the long run. A few clips:

TIME said that “study after study suggests that growing fuel could be a disaster for the planet, while raising global food prices and promoting global food riots.”

“People don’t want to believe renewable fuels could be bad,” says the lead author, Tim Searchinger, a Princeton scholar and former Environmental Defense attorney. “But when you realize we’re tearing down rain forests that store loads of carbon to grow crops that store much less carbon, it becomes obvious.”

Brazil just announced that deforestation is on track to double this year; Carter, a Texas cowboy with all the subtlety of a chainsaw, says it’s going to get worse fast. “It gives me goose bumps,” says Carter, who founded a nonprofit to promote sustainable ranching on the Amazon frontier. “It’s like witnessing a rape.”

…the basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple, given that researchers have ignored it until now: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.

Deforestation accounts for 20% of all current carbon emissions. So unless the world can eliminate emissions from all other sources–cars, power plants, factories, even flatulent cows–it needs to reduce deforestation or risk an environmental catastrophe.

via The Clean Energy Scam – TIME.

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