Use hydropower instead of biomass
To show how hydroelectric power can help meet the States 10%
renewable energy requirement for 2015 without biomass, one need only
look at the Renewable Energy Plan for Lansing Board of Water and
Light, which is a publicly owned utility. They purchase or own
hydropower capacity of 11,700 megawatt hours from three dams, which is
identical to the best estimate of about 12,000 megawatt hours for the
three Boardman River dams.
The Moores Park Hydro owned by Lansing, was rehabilitated and brought
back into service in March 2008. Other sources of renewable
energy for Lansing include landfill energy and a small solar array.
I recently performed an analysis of how many trees would be saved if
hydropower from the Boardman River dams were to replace the amount of
wood chips necessary to produce the same amount of electricity. I came
up with about 18,200 tons per year (49.9 tons per day). Using
conversion data from the Friends of the Jordan River, this works out
to about 425 acres per year (think of it as more than ten 40-acre
plots.) This is about two-thirds of a square mile per year. Those
figures are either large or small depending on whose back yard it is.
What bothers me most is that I try to be a responsible citizen and
recycle paper while buying recycled products. With a biomass plant, it
is the same as going outside and chopping down a small tree every time
I turn on the oven, or burning a branch when I need some light. Ben
Franklin would call it being penny wise and pound foolish.
I read that during the Great Depression people needed to revert to
chopping down trees to heat their houses and cook their meals, but
during the great advances of the 20th century who would have guessed
we would now be moving backwards to a 19th century dependency on wood
for energy? Although I am not crazy about coal, I would much rather
deplete our coal reserves than deplete our topsoil that future
generations will need. With modern smokestack scrubber technology,
coal is just another carbon fuel, except that it does not cause ocean
spills nor does it cause money to go to countries that hate us.
One source of frustration at board meetings of Traverse City Light and
Power is when I hear a board member state that an overwhelming
majority of their ratepayers favor renewable energy. Of course they
(we) do! But when we are asked that question, I doubt if most of us
consider biomass as renewable. The original old growth forest in this
area would require hundreds of years to replicate, which will never
happen if we keep cutting it down. And the non-renewable nutrients
removed from the topsoil are forever lost, unlike the normal decay of
dead wood. If biomass were not legally defined as renewable for the
purpose of meeting the state renewable energy law, not a single
utility would want it.
Douglas Burwell via email