2010 Feb. 24: MI Traverse City: Forum: Only you can prevent biomass burners

Published: February 24, 2010 07:45 am        

2010 Feb. 24: MI Traverse City: Forum: Only you can prevent biomass burners

By JEFF GIBBS

In our quest for renewable energy, by all measures woody biomass burning is the worst road to go down. But unless citizens speak out at the upcoming Traverse City Light & Power forums, tree-burning power plants for Traverse City appear to be a done deal.
Yes, only you can stop forest incineration.
Now that might sound a little strong, but wood-burning power plants need whole trees and lots of them. The one 20-megawatt plant proposed by Light & Power would consume about 260,000 tons of wood per year. But there has been talk by TCLP of four or more of these tree-fired power plants, consuming millions of tons of wood per year from hundreds of thousands of acres. That’s in addition to dozens more existing or proposed wood-burning power plants.
Get ready for peak firewood.
I am a Traverse City resident and TCLP customer, and I ask what gives us the right to burn trees from thousands of square miles to meet a fraction of one small city’s energy needs? Our forests are the lifeblood of our region’s tourist economy along with clean air and water. Would we risk that? Far more people could be employed making things like furniture, homes and chopsticks than shoving trees into an incinerator.
Then there is the matter of the supposed carbon neutrality of tree burning. The fact is that burning wood emits as much or more CO2 than coal, and nearly twice as much as natural gas.
Woody biomass burning also produces hazardous fine particulates, volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxide (smog.) Yet TCLP has proposed the first biomass plant for a neighborhood with an elementary school, a high school and a hospital.
Biomass plants also generate huge piles of wood ash, which pose a hazardous waste disposal issue. Any toxins not released into the air wind up in the ash and potentially in our waters.
So why this rush to biomass burning? "Follow the money." Billions in tax subsidies are available right now, subsidies that will go away as the public catches on that biomass is anything but green energy.
TCLP’s own market research found that twice as many people strongly supported wind, solar and conservation as biomass burning even before objections were raised, which might explain why TCLP hired two marketing consultants to sell us this old, dirty technology.
Why hasn’t TCLP explored other options? For instance, natural gas, which emits 50 percent less CO2 than coal and is a local fuel. Five wind turbines would replace one biomass plant. Or how about hundreds of small, locally made vertical wind turbines?
If this rush to biomass burning is to be slowed or stopped, all of us must attend TCLP’s forums this week to express our concerns. Bring a friend or neighbor.
If we are correct, our great-grandchildren might look back on us as the generation that saved, not burned, the forest.
If we are wrong, well, they can still burn the trees later. They’ll be even bigger.
About the author: Jeff Gibbs is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on a feature film on forest health, energy, biofuels, water quality and global warming for several years. He has interviewed dozens of citizens, scientists and experts around the country on the issue. He was a producer and composer for several of Michael Moore’s films. Gibbs was also a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues.
He is a Traverse City resident and a Light & Power customer.
About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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