Just a few years back, Washington voters passed legislation requiring utilities to provide increasing amounts of renewable energy to their customers. The definition of "renewable" is fairly narrow, but it does include "biomass," which is energy from wood waste, predominantly, that is burned to generate electricity.
Seeing an opportunity to profit, a company called Adage has announced its plans to build a large biomass plant near Shelton to sell the electricity to Washington state utilities. Some greenies, however, aren't happy about it.
Last week, a group of environmental protesters glued shut the locks of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) in an effort to force the agency to deny the air permit for the plant. The Olympian reported:
The proposed $250 million Adage plan near Shelton would burn more than 600,000 tons of wood debris per year and generate enough electricity to serve about 40,000 homes. It would provide some 750 direct and indirect jobs during a 2½-year construction period and 200 direct and indirect jobs during plant operation, according to Adage.
Environmental activists, however, aren't impressed with these "green" jobs and want the project stopped. The Olympian reporter uncritically included their claims, which are simply incorrect:
It also would release into the air annually about 550,000 tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, along with hundreds of tons of pollutants linked to environmental problems such as smog and acid rain. The pollutants also are linked to respiratory problems.
First, biomass is nearly carbon-neutral, which is why the state's renewable energy law counts it toward the carbon reduction targets. Allowing wood waste to decompose or be burned on site emits almost the same amount of carbon as using it for energy production. Using it as an energy source, however, is more productive and can replace carbon-emitting energy sources, reducing overall carbon emissions. So, the vast majority of the 550,000 tons of CO2 would be released anyway, meaning net emissions are very small, and if that energy replaces coal, it actually reduces total carbon emissions.
Forest scientists from across the country, including several from the University of Washington's College of the Environment agree that biomass energy is renewable and has very low carbon emissions.
Second, claiming the plant would cause acid rain or respiratory problems is sheer nonsense. The EPA tracks acid rain causing emissions. You can see the amounts of sulfur and nitrogen measured by the EPA here. Both levels are extremely low - some of the lowest in the nation. As for smog, the EPA reports there were exactly zero (0) unhealthy days for "asthma and other lung disease" in Mason County in all of 2009.
Shelton isn't the only place greens are attacking renewable energy. In Port Angeles, the Port Townsend AirWatchers, the Olympic Forest Coalition, the Olympic Environmental Council, No Biomass Burn of Seattle, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy of Spokane, the World Temperate Rainforest Network and the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club are all opposing a new biomass boiler at a paper mill in that community. This is despite the fact that, as the Peninsula Daily News reports, the new boiler would cut "particulate matter by 68 percent, acid gasses by 98 percent, carbon monoxide by 12 percent and sulfur dioxide by 52 percent."
What's more, the EPA is following the lead of this bad science, refusing to count biomass energy as renewable in their new climate regulations. The Washington Policy Center sponsored a resolution passed by a task force of legislators from across the country calling on the EPA to correct this scientific error.
By now it should not be surprising the greens are willing to ignore the science when it suits their political agenda. This, however, is a particularly egregious example - using unscientific claims to oppose energy generation they claim to support.