Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

The ‘green energy’ that might be ruining the planet

Michael Grunwald, POLITICO

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Read more at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/03/26/biomass-carbon-climate-politics-477620?ct=t(RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN)

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Priorities for Sonoma County’s vegetation management funds

Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind, and Katie Segal, BERKELEY LAW

How would you spend $25 million to reduce wildfire risks? Sonoma County asked CLEE for guidance to answer this precise question. In 2017, the Sonoma Complex Fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the county, destroyed over 5,000 structures, and took two dozen lives. After reaching a legal settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric (whose equipment sparked the fires), Sonoma County allocated $25 million of the settlement funds to vegetation management–thinning and treatment of forests and vegetation–in order to reduce future fire risk and protect ecosystems and agriculture.

The County retained CLEE to gather expert input and prepare recommendations for how to allocate these funds most efficiently and effectively. Considering the long-term and recurring nature of vegetation management, the diversity of County landscapes and ecosystems, and the scale of the need relative to the amount of funds, a range of strategies will be required to leverage the funds into long-term investments and ensure sustainable practices. CLEE convened a group of statewide experts and a group of County stakeholders to identify spending priorities.

Our report outlines these priorities and offers specific strategies for the funds to achieve them, including:

      • Governance and coordination capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.
      • Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.
      • Immediate vegetation management projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.
      • Data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.
      • Long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.
      • Workforce development initiatives, like local college training programs to support high-quality local jobs and grow expertise and capacity in Sonoma.

      Read the report and full list of priorities here.

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Op-Ed: Don’t burn trees to fight climate change—let them grow

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

f all the solutions to climate change, ones that involve trees make people the happiest. Earlier this year, when a Swiss study announced that planting 1.2 trillion trees might cancel out a decade’s worth of carbon emissions, people swooned (at least on Twitter). And last month, when Ethiopian officials announced that twenty-three million of their citizens had planted three hundred and fifty million trees in a single day, the swooning intensified. Someone tweeted, “This should be like the ice bucket challenge thing.”

So it may surprise you to learn that, at the moment, the main way in which the world employs trees to fight climate change is by cutting them down and burning them. Across much of Europe, countries and utilities are meeting their carbon-reduction targets by importing wood pellets from the southeastern United States and burning them in place of coal: giant ships keep up a steady flow of wood across the Atlantic. “Biomass makes up fifty per cent of the renewables mix in the E.U.,” Rita Frost, a campaigner for the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Asheville, North Carolina, told me. And the practice could be on the rise in the United States, where new renewable-energy targets proposed by some Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as by the E.P.A., treat “biomass”—fuels derived from plants—as “carbon-neutral,” much to the pleasure of the forestry industry. “Big logging groups are up on Capitol Hill working hard,” Alexandra Wisner, the associate director of the Rachel Carson Council, told me, when I spoke with her recently.

The story of how this happened begins with good intentions. As concern about climate change rose during the nineteen-nineties, back when solar power, for instance, cost ten times what it does now, people casting about for alternatives to fossil fuels looked to trees. Trees, of course, are carbon—when you burn them you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the logic went like this: if you cut down a tree, another will grow in its place. And, as that tree grows, it will suck up carbon from the atmosphere—so, in carbon terms, it should be a wash. In 2009, Middlebury College, where I teach, was lauded for replacing its oil-fired boilers with a small biomass plant; I remember how proud the students who first presented the idea to the board of trustees were.

Read more at https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/dont-burn-trees-to-fight-climate-changelet-them-grow

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Chopping down and burning our forests for electricity is not a climate solution

Mary Anne Hitt and Danna Smith, THE HILL

Addressing the climate crisis has finally become a major national priority for the public this election season, but that’s also prompted troubling discussions in the energy sector and on Capitol Hill about increasing the use of biomass energy, or burning plant materials like wood, to produce electricity.

We need to set the record straight on this: chopping down our forests and burning them for electricity will not reduce carbon pollution and will actually exacerbate the climate crisis. The best course of action is to dramatically build out our clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, and retire all biomass and fossil fuel plants. Period.

Forests should never be used to serve our electricity needs, they are too valuable as “carbon sinks” – sucking carbon out of the atmosphere as opposed to putting carbon into it. Additionally, biomass energy inevitably leads to deforestation. For example, the EU’s use of biomass in place of coal is already accelerating logging in wetlands and coastal hardwood forests across the Southeastern U.S. After being ripped out of these historic forests, trees designated for biomass are reduced to wood pellets and shipped to power plants where they are burned, releasing large amounts of carbon pollution in the process.

The reality is that utility companies and the biomass industry are attempting to paint burning trees as “renewable, green, climate friendly energy” so that they and their allies can exploit government subsidies and continue raking in big profits at the expense of public health and technologies that are actually sustainable. The biomass industry’s argument depends on claims that the forests they cut grow back, thereby reabsorbing any carbon that was emitted. But, this is not the case.

The truth is that when forests are clear-cut and the trees burned for fuel, carbon that was otherwise stored in the forest is emitted to the atmosphere. It can take a forest anywhere from 40 to 100 years of regrowth to reabsorb that same amount of carbon, and the science shows that our climate can’t wait that long. To have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts, we must reduce emissions rapidly over the next decade and start restoring degraded forests across the world, including here in the U.S.

Read more at https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/456977-chopping-down-and-burning-our-forests-for-electricity

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Logging plays bigger climate change role than U.S. acknowledges, report says

Georgina Gustin, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS
The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.
“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report.
The report comes as the issue of burning wood for energy is getting fresh attention in Washington. This week, Congress, backed by the logging industry, included language in its budget deal that would declare the burning of woody biomass for electricity “carbon neutral,” sparking the latest controversy in a long-running debate.
“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club. “Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere.”
Read more at: Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says | InsideClimate News