Are wood-burning biomass power plants a climate solution — or scourge? To explore the pros and cons of biomass, Sea Change Radio Co-Host Francesca Rheannon hosted a debate between Bob Saul, head of domestic land acquisition with GMO Renewable Resources, and Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch.
With the world looking to replace fossil fuels in the race to mitigate global climate disruption, it’s clear a mix of renewable energy strategies will have to be deployed. But as the corn ethanol debacle shows, not all cures to the climate conundrum are equal. Some may even end up hurting the patient. Producing ethanol from corn biomass emits more carbon than was saved, wastes huge amounts of water and takes cropland away from growing food. That has led to spikes in food prices, raising levels of hunger around the world. So trodding carefully onto the path of renewable energy is vital if we are not to waste precious time and resources on solutions that aren’t sustainable.
Another feedstock for biomass production is wood. In Massachusetts, where we produce this show, five new wood-burning biomass plants are being planned. Three of them are right here in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, such as the Russell biomass plant – sparking a controversy. It’s pitting residents who fear the plant will pollute their neighborhoods and clear cut state forests against local officials, developers and the state government, which is counting on the plants to be part of its renewable energy strategy.
Bob Saul, whose company owns and manages large tracts of forests in the US and abroad, presents the “pro” point of view, and Chris Matera, who characterizes biomass plants as “forest incinerators, represents the “con” perspective.
By the way, this is not a controversy limited to Massachusetts. There are approximately 80 operating biomass power plants in 19 states across the U.S. Another 40 plants are operable, but are not currently operating.