First Energy Corp., who owns the Burger power plant at Dilles Bottom south of Shadyside Ohio, is planning to convert from a coal burning facility to biomass burning facility within two years. Biomass fuel consists of plant material like trees and grasses which can be harvested on a mass scale then burned to produce electricity. Sounds like a good alternative to coal until you dig a little deeper and work some simple math to figure out just how much biomass is needed on a daily basis to sustain normal energy outputs - in Burger's case 3,000 tons of trees!!! With nearly 70% of the Captina Creek watershed secondary forest growth coverage and right downstream from the facility, it's understanding why people would be a bit on edge toward this proposal. Below is a news release from Cheryl Johncox regarding biomass burning for energy production:
Some Ohio Power Companies Seeking “Green” Credits For Burning Trees
Several of Ohio’s coal-fired power plants have announced plans to burn chipped and pelleted trees as a means of generating electricity. The utility companies behind the plans hope to receive renewable energy credits or “RECs” for burning wood fuel as “renewable biomass.” If certified by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio or “PUCO,” companies can use biomass RECs to meet the renewable energy requirements mandated under Ohio law – requirements that could otherwise be met through truly “clean” and “green” renewable options such as wind and solar. The PUCO has already granted renewable energy certification to 7 power plants that will use wood as their fuel of choice including First Energy's Burger plant in Shadyside. Three other power plants are currently awaiting PUCO approval.
Unfortunately, trees would have to be cut on an enormous scale to fuel these power plants, which when combined total as much as 2,100 Mega-Watts or “MW” of potential biomass-to-energy generation. Approximately 25,000,000 green tons of wood would have to be cut and extracted every year if that many MWs were to be powered by woody biomass incineration. This figure is grossly unsustainable: woody biomass energy on such a scale would devour three times Ohio’s annual forest growth if trees for fuel are cut within the state. Put somewhat differently, this much woody biomass incineration could clearcut all Ohio forests in a relatively short period of time.
Moreover, burning trees for electricity generates more CO2 than coal. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass are about 1.5 times higher than from coal and three to four times higher than from natural gas. Despite this fact, industry groups are currently asking EPA to designate woody biomass as “carbon neutral” under the faulty logic that carbon released from burning trees will ultimately be stored as forests regrow. The simple truth is that carbon is released instantly when wood is burned, and that it takes several decades for “replacement” trees to regrow. Any carbon stored from forest regrowth would be overwhelmed by the much more rapid burning of trees for energy by utility companies.
Forests in Ohio provide us with many benefits. They provide places to take our families hiking, biking, and camping, and they provide air and water purification, temperature regulation, soil retention, and habitat for wildlife. Exploiting our forests for biomass energy threatens all of these benefits that forests provide.
The state of Ohio should be focusing on truly renewable energy like wind and solar, supporting energy efficiency measures and investment in developing technologies for local energy generation and storage to reach our targets. Many Ohioans could benefit from reducing their electric bills by monitoring and conserving home usage. Also, many more jobs will be created if utility companies are not given an easy out that will neither reduce greenhouse gases or reduce air pollution.
Cheryl Johncox is Interim Executive Director of Buckeye Forest Council. To connect on this issue, visit Buckeye Forest Council’s website at www.buckeyeforestcouncil.org. You can also follow BFC on Facebook.