We are happy to announce the release the latest information we have on the proposed biomass gasification plant at The Evergreen State College. Download it here to print or read the text below.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW
The Sustainability Council at The Evergreen State College is currently in the pro- cess of researching the efficiency, cost, and effects of retrofitting the college’s existing natural gas energy facility to one that would run via a process known as Biomass Gasifi- cation (BG).
BG is a century old technology that has been rebranded in the last few years as a “green” and “renewable” source of energy. BG energy is derived by burning organic matter in the presence of low levels of oxygen gas (O2) to create what’s known as “syn- gas” which can then be used for combustion. At Evergreen this organic matter (biomass) would initially come from the “slash” left behind from commercial timber clear cuts. While even Barak Obama, like the Evergreen administration, has repeated the biomass industry’s claims that this process is carbon neutral and sustainable, the reliable scientific research surrounding the matter shows a rather different picture.
As better and better evidence comes to light against biomass, the Evergreen ad- ministration pushes harder and harder to work around a county wide moratorium halting all construction of biomass facilities for the next year. If Evergreen supports biomass it also supports a degraded quality of life for communities nation wide. In Evergreen saying that biomass is green and sustainable, other institutions will follow. Evergreen cannot be allowed to go through with this project. Biomass is not sustainable and does not support healthy communities. Olympia Rising Tide demands real solutions to climate change and demands a fair and healthy quality of life for all living communities.
BIOMASS IS INEFFICIENT
Wood is not nearly as concen- trated a heat source as coal, gas, oil, or any other fossil fuel. Most biomass en- ergy operations are only able to capture 20-25% of the latent energy by burning wood. That means one needs to gather and burn more wood to get the same en- ergy value as a more concentrated fuel like coal. That is not to suggest that coal is a good alternative, rather wood is a worse alternative. Adding in the energy it would take to gather the rather dispersed source of wood and then truck it to a central en- ergy plant, the entire carbon footprint of biomass creates far more CO2 with far less energy output than other energy sources.
BIOMASSS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE
In theory, biomass facilities are sustainable if they are able to collect and transport their fuel from within a 50-mile radius. However there are currently 22 biomass plants being proposed for West- ern Washington. Were all of these plants to be built, their respective radii would overlap significantly (see figure below). There is not nearly enough wood in the state for all the proposed burners. When the “waste” wood runs out (as it is sure to do), Evergreen may choose to use wood that has been clear-cut for the sole pur- pose of burning. Or, worse yet, the school may turn to other sources of “biomass,” as has happened elsewhere in the coun- try. At other facilities the term “biomass” has been legally applied to such wonderful things to burn as garbage, sewage sludge, tires, wood waste (construction/demoli- tion, urban tree trimmings, paper and lumber mills wastes, etc.), agriculture crop wastes (often laden with toxic pesticides), animal factory wastes (corporate hog fac- tory wastes, dairy factory wastes, chicken feces & bodies, etc.), and contaminated
landfill gases. Feeding 22 new biomass incinerators proposed for the state will quickly exhaust supplies of “slash” left af- ter logging, and, if left unchecked, could lead to radically expanded clear-cutting of our forests or worse.
Further, a recent state-level bio- mass inventory estimates that there are about 3.5 million green tons of residues generated annually in Washington State. However, only about half of this, or 1.75 million tons, is actually collectable for use. In contrast, the combined wood demand of just the biomass power facilities pro- posed in Washington is more than 3 mil- lion tons of wood per year; and new wood pellet plants and biofuel plants will require another several hundred thousand tons per year, for a combined demand that is currently two to three times the realisti- cally available supply of logging residues in the state.
BIOMASS IS BAD FOR FOREST HEALTH
The amount of new biomass gen- eration currently proposed in Washington would amount to less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity generating capacity. Yet even this relatively small amount of power generation seems likely to put new demands on Washington’s forests. Pro- ponents of biomass claim that by burning the branches and treetops left over from commercial clear cutting, energy is being created from something that would other- wise go to waste. However, logging slash left to decompose on site is not wasted wood. Slash provides an excellent source of carbon and nutrients for forest soil, things badly needed after the devastating effects of clear cutting. Even dead trees (as opposed to fresh slash) are not a “wasted” resource. Hollow logs and snags provide home and food for thousands of species, including 45% of all bird species in the US. Dead trees that fall to the ground are used by insects, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles for shelter and even potentially food. Dead trees that fall into streams are important physical components of aquatic ecosystems and provide critical habitat for many fish and other aquatic species.
And logging activities are not benign, either. Logging typically requires some kind of access, often roads which are a major source of sedimentation in streams, and disrupt natural subsurface water flow. Logging can disturb sensitive wildlife and spread weeds. And since large amounts of forest carbon are actually tied up in the soils, soil disturbance from log- ging is especially damaging, often releas- ing substantial additional amounts of car- bon over and above what is released up a smoke stack.
A large-scale biomass plant (50 megawatt) uses close to a million gallons of water a day for cooling. Most of that water is lost from the watershed since ap- proximately 85% is lost as steam. Water channeled back into a river or stream typi- cally has a pollution cost as well, including higher water temperatures that negatively impact fisheries, especially trout. Since cooling need is greatest in warm weather, removal of water from rivers occurs just when flows are lowest, and fish are most susceptible to temperature stress. The logging industry and their friends in the mainstream environmental commu- nity claim that logging forests for biomass enhances forest health. However logging practices are continually shown to contrib- ute to increased flooding, habitat destruc- tion and loss of native species on top of the problems inherent in the extraction of finite resources from the planet.
BIOMASS IS BAD FOR HUMAN HEALTH
All biomass combustion tech- nologies put pollution in the air in order to make “green energy.” Biomass combustion emits more than twice as much highly tox- ic particulate matter as coal combustion, and five to 13 times more than natural-gas combustion, according to studies accept- ed by the federal Environmental Protec- tion Agency. Biomass plants increase toxic hazards as heavy metals are released in the combustion process and halogenated chemicals (chlorine, fluorine, bromine…) are converted to highly toxic organic com- pounds like dioxins and furans. Waste in- cineration is the largest known source of dioxin (the most toxic chemical ever stud- ied). Exposure to these compounds has been linked by the American Lung Associa- tion to a lethal brew of diseases and con- ditions: cancer, cardiopulmonary diseases including heart attacks, strokes, premature death, increased emergency-room visits and hospital admissions, birth defects, abnormal lung development in children, and asthma in children. Dr. Cole Mason, president of the Thurston – Mason County Medical Society backed by over 400 other physicians of Mason and Thurston County highly oppose the project saying there are “established health risks”. See the back of this pamphlet for statements from various medical associations speaking out against biomass incinerators/gasifiers.
BIOMASS IS BAD FOR THE CLIMATE
Burning biomass emits 150 per- cent the carbon dioxide of coal, and 300 – 400 percent the CO2 of natural gas, per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. In spite of this fact, Washington state policy changes are being proposed regarding bio- mass that could lead to an increase in total carbon emissions from the power sector,
an increase that would be incompatible with Washington’s goals of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to no more than 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
The Washington State Depart- ment of Natural Resources (DNR) argues that biomass is “carbon neutral” due to a misinterpretation of statements made by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reasoning behind the DNR claim is the fact that growing trees capture and use carbon over time. On the surface this may make sense, however, it ignores the fact that it takes decades for new for- est growth to capture the carbon that is released by trees consumed in a biomass burner. This premise also assumes there will be new trees growing to replace those that have gone to the burner—something that one can’t assume as climate change could make many places less suitable for forest growth. In an era of climate change, the assumption that a forest cut will grow back on the same site is optimistic at best.
DNR claims that the IPCC treats biomass as carbon neutral as long as for- est stocks in a country do not decrease, but this is not correct. The IPCC did not assume that the burning of trees has no effect on global warming. The reference is to guidance provided by the IPCC on coun- try-level reporting of all greenhouse gas emissions, which requires that countries report in separate sets of books not only their energy emissions, but also their emis- sions from land use change. In effect, once trees are harvested for any purpose, IPCC rules require that their carbon be reported as a land use release. Because that carbon is already counted, and to avoid double counting, the IPCC rules appropriately pro- vide that the carbon should not be counted again if the trees are burned for energy.
If the biomass burned is truly from “waste” wood left over from timber harvesting, then the emissions produced by gasifying this wood are approximately equivalent to what would occur over the course of natural decomposition. Yet they are emitted instantaneously instead of over a longer time period as occurs in na- ture. Further, if fuel is obtained by har- vesting trees that would not otherwise be cut then the carbon “payback period” is decades to more than a century, even if the harvested trees are replaced. Even the EPA stated in 2009 that reabsorption of carbon emissions from burning wood, or any source, takes centuries and millennia. This means carbon emissions from burn- ing wood accelerate climate change and do not retard it. DNR’s approach to carbon accounting does not acknowledge this, in- stead assuming that the carbon from trees harvested for fuel does not need to be re- grown in place as long as forest carbon stocks remain constant within the state as a whole.
Using wood for power generation that would otherwise be added to forests not only increases the rate of CO2 emis- sions per kilowatt-hour but also reduces the critical forest carbon “sink,” a veritable double-whammy on the climate. Simply declaring biomass power to be carbon neutral does not make it so.
WHY BIOMASS AT EVERGREEN?
Biomass energies have received significant attention in the last few years as “green” energy source. As the timber industry takes a loss in a dwindling econ- omy where no new houses are being built, and the energy industries are scraping for the next big thing in the face of peak oil, biomass seems like a pretty good way to cover those losses.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Pro- gram, or BCAP, which was quietly put into
the 2008 congressional farm bill has so far given away more than a half billion dollars in a matching payment program for busi- nesses that cut and collect biomass from national forests and Bureau of Land Man- agement lands. And according to a recent Washington Post story, the Obama admin- istration has already sent $23 million to biomass energy companies, and is poised to send another half billion. Other money from the Obama Energy Plan has been lobbied to help subsidize the construction of biomass facilities while not subsidiz- ing other renewable energy sources. This then creates a strong incentive for institu- tions to opt for biomass when considering energy alternatives. And this is just the position Evergreen finds itself in as it has recently obtained a $3.7 Million subsidy from the federal government to build the proposed biomass plant. Were another en- ergy source used at Evergreen, the school would have to give this subsidy back.
In 2007 The Evergreen State Col- lege committed to a goal of carbon neu- trality by 2020. Carbon neutrality as it re- lates to Evergreen means no net output of greenhouse gases as a result of institution- al activities. This biggest hurdle to achiev- ing this goal has been to reduce the use of natural gas and purchased electricity as the school’s two main sources of energy. Since 2005, the electricity has been purchased via Renewable Energy Credits thanks to a student initiative and fee. Natural gas combustion to create steam for campus heating remains the single largest use of fossil fuel on campus. To replace this fossil fuel, Evergreen is investigating the instal- lation of a biomass gasification system.
As part of this process TESC has hired the Seattle based company McKin- stry to conduct a feasibility study on the pros and cons of building this plant. The study’s conclusion, available on the Ev- ergreen website, showed that the total
estimated cost of the project would be $12,675,996. $50,000 of this money would be used to build a “learning laboratory” inside the complex. We interpret this to mean using $50,000 in the face of tuition increases and budget cuts to greenwash a dirty technology, thereby misinforming the students, faculty, and representatives from other schools considering converting to biomass themselves. This is essentially using student funds to promote the bio- mass industry as a whole. Also buried in this report on page 14 of Section 3 is the fact that McKinstry itself would stand to make over $2.4 Million were the facility to be built, a direct conflict of interest! As ex- pected, McKinstry concluded that the pro- posed biomass facility would meet Ever- green’s requirements for carbon neutrality and thus recommended construction by the Canadian company Nexterra (a com- pany heavily invested in the destruction of the boreal forest in northern Alberta, Canada as part of the tar sands extraction process).
If Evergreen is allowed to go through with this project, not only does it perpetuate clear cutting and the destruc- tion of the planet for corporate profit but it also sets a precedent for other “green” col- leges and institutions around the country. If Evergreen, a famously eco-conscious, forward moving school says biomass is ok other liberal schools are sure to follow. Evergreen is famous for its emphasis on sustainable practices as well as practicing a democratic system of decision making, however, until recently Evergreen has done what it can to make its decision process as inaccessible to community members as possible. We have attended their meetings and open forums, often being one of sever- al who oppose biomass in a room of biased administers. We have just barely found out about “community” meetings the day before it was planned. All the last minute planning is Evergreen’s way of claiming to be open to the public while maintaining its privacy. The Evergreen adminstration has repeatedly made quiet steps to harness funding and move forward with the bio- mass project while students, faculty and communities are left out of the process entirely.
Strange things are afoot, in deed. Despite the abundant scientific evidence against claims of biomass’ sustainability and car- bon neutrality. Despite a county-wide mor- atorium calling for better research. Despite a local consortium of doctors speaking out against proposed burners. Despite all of this, the Evergreen admin is fiercely push- ing for the construction of this plant. Scott Morgan, the coordinator of the Evergreen Sustainability Council, seems to be mak- ing it his personal goal to bring biomass to Evergreen. With the vehemence and lack of logic he applies to his approach, the question must be raised as to whether he is catering to student interest, personal interests, or to corporate interests. In any event it is clear that his priorities lie not in meeting the carbon neutrality goals set by Evergreen but in fulfilling an agenda that was seemingly set over two years ago.
In September, 2010, Peter Goldmark from the Washington DNR and Governor Gregoire sent a letter to EPA Administra- tor Lisa Jackson arguing that all biomass sources of greenhouse gas pollution in Washington should be exempt from feder- al regulation. Why? As the keynote speaker at the national Biomass Conference and Trade Show earlier this year (held at the Seattle Sheraton), Peter Goldmark’s an- nouncement that biomass jetfuels (likely for Boeing, among others) are on the ho- rizon for the industry leads one to the con- clusion that he’s planning to keep biomass in Washington for a long time.
Support your community, Resist biomass!
Join Olympia Rising Tide in fighting to stop the con- struction of biomass power plants in Washington and end false solutions to climate change. To hear about upcoming open meetings and events, email us to get on our announcements list.
QUOTES FROM THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY
American Lung Association
“The Lung Association urges that the legis- lation not promote the combustion of bio- mass. Burning biomass could lead to sig- nificant increases in emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulfur diox- ide and have severe impacts on the health of children, older adults, and people
with lung diseases.
Massachusetts Medical Society
“Biomass power plants pose an unaccept- able risk to the public’s health by increas- ing air pollution…The burning of biomass releases small particles into the air creat- ing particulate air pollution. Epidemiologi- cal studies have demonstrated an asso- ciation between elevated particulate air pollution levels and adverse health effects and death. Particulate air pollution is as- sociated with increased cardiopulmonary symptoms, asthma attacks, days lost from work due to respiratory disease, emergen- cy room visits, hospitalization rates, and mortality. “Biomass combustion also re- leases nitrogen oxides, which help create ozone, a highly reactive oxidant gas. Ozone reacts in the pulmonary airways causing symptoms of chest pain, short- ness of breath, cough, wheeze, increased susceptibility to infection, declines in lung function, increases in asthma attacks, increases in asthma medication use, in- creased rates of emergency room visits for respiratory disease.
http://www.massmed.org/AM/Template.c fm?Section=Search8&template=/CM/HT- MLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=33653
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition
“Massachusetts has the 4th highest breast cancer rate in the country…Of particular concern to the breast cancer community about this [Springfield] plant is the release of toxic chemicals like dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) into the air in communities already experiencing needlessly high rates of breast cancer.”
http://www.springfieldincinerator.info/ content_downloads/Mass%20Breast%20 Cancer%20Coalition.doc
North Carolina Academy of
“Biomass burning of poultry litter and wood wastes creates emissions of par- ticulate matter that research has shown increase the risk of premature death, asth- ma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. This burning process also creates numer- ous byproducts, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that in- crease smog and ozone, which are known to increase lung disease and mortality; sul- fur dioxides which also contribute to respi- ratory disease; arsenic which can increase the risk of cancer; mercury which can in- crease the risk of brain and kidney disease and affect the developing fetus; and diox- ins which may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, develop- mental delays in children, neurotoxicity, and thyroid disease. “These health effects would increase disability and death in all age groups, but particularly in the most vulnerable—developing fetuses, new- borns, children, those with chronic illness, and the elderly. As a result of this increased disability and disease, medical costs in the state will increase.”
http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/ mn-politics/files/f/302-2010-05 02T165944Z/Final%20Letter%20of%20Concern%20Regarding%20Biomass%20Bur ning.pdf
Florida Medical Association
“The Florida Medical Association urges state government to adopt policies to min- imize the approval and the construction of new incinerators including mass-burn, gasification, plasma, pyrolysis, biomass, refuse derived fuel and other incinerator technologies, and to develop a plan to re- tire existing outdated incinerators.”
• PM 2.5, or fine particles, have a diameter that is 2.5 microns or smaller. These par- ticles are released directly from sources such as forest fires and other combustion sources. These particles can remain sus- pended in the air for a long time because of their small size. With PM 2.5, ever com- bustion unit – industrial boiler, school bus, truck, lawnmower, fireplace, wood boiler, etc – is a source of fine particulate matter.
• The U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advi- sory Committee, established under the Clean Air Act to provide scientific advice on setting air quality standards, states “there is clear and convincing scientific evidence that significant adverse human-health ef- fects occur in response to short-term and chronic particulate matter exposures at and below 15 μg/m3, the level of the cur- rent annual PM2.5 standard.” (CASAC 2006).
• Children’s Health study (CHS), which be- gan in Southern California in 1993, includ- ed more than 6000 public school children. Many research papers emerging from this study have produced findings showing that exposure to air pollution in the region has resulted in increased school absences, asthma exacerbation, and new-onset asth- ma. (Kunzli et al. 2003)
• Data from the American Cancer Society (ACS) cohort estimated that for each 10- μg/m3 increase in annual average expo- sure to PM2.5, long-term all-cause, car- diopulmonary, and lung cancer mortality