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- June 21st, 2010
Use hydropower instead of biomass
To show how hydroelectric power can help meet the State’s 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

Not sustainable
The rush to build wood-burning biomass plants across Michigan raises
serious concerns for the future of our forests. These plants are
often built by coal and gas providers as a way to gain “green” credits
and to meet their 10% renewable energy mandate. Although they claim to
use “scrap” wood to fuel these burners, industry experts and foresters
say whole tree harvesting from state and federal land is necessary and
more efficient. And they are receiving huge government subsidies (our
tax dollars) to harvest and burn our forests under the guise of being
Burning trees and tree products in biomass plants, however, is NOT
green, NOT carbon neutral and NOT sustainable.
Our forests should not be classified as a renewable resource for
biomass. It takes minutes to burn a tree, decades to grow a new one.
Several biomass plants currently operate in Michigan and more are
being proposed in Gaylord, Traverse City, Frankfort, Mancelona and in
the Upper Peninsula. Each one uses a 50-75 mile radius to determine
fuel availability. These boundaries overlap. Based on data from
Massachusetts (where wood burning biomass has been temporarily
banned), it takes 13,000 tons of wood to produce 1 MW of power for one
year. At a moderate harvest rate of 20 tons per acre, one small 30 MW
electric plant would burn approximately 20,000 acres of wood each
year. This is not a sustainable use of our forests.
Wood burning biomass is not carbon neutral. It emits 1.5 times as
much CO2 into the atmosphere as coal. Harvesting and transporting
wood chips to biomass plants adds to the carbon emissions. According
to the EPA, it takes hundreds of years for replanted tree seedlings to
sequester the carbon emitted from the harvesting and burning of larger
trees. Wood burning also releases numerous toxic chemicals, volatile
organic compounds and high levels of particulate matter. The American
Lung Association opposes wood burning biomass, stating that their
emissions pose unacceptable health risks.
Healthy forests are necessary for our very survival. They provide us
with the oxygen we breathe, carbon sequestration, habitat for plant
and animal life, as well as lumber for furniture and houses. Dead
trees and debris which litter the forest floor provide food and
habitat for insects, fungi, plants and animals, regenerate the soil
and allow for future growth and biodiversity.
Michigan forests are the lifeblood of our tourist economy. Our public
forest land should be protected, not viewed as a commodity to be
auctioned off to a furnace. Friends of the Jordan is asking Governor
Granholm to call for a moratorium on the building of wood burning
biomass plants. Our tax dollar subsidies should be used to promote
wind, solar and other energy sources which are truly carbon neutral
and sustainable.

Anne Zukowski
Friends of the Jordan River

Skewed viewpoint
I was somewhat surprised by Mike
Beveridge’s cliché laden letter dealing with “Tea Party dupes”. While
I too have little patience with the willfully ignorant, I try to
maintain a modicum of tolerance toward those who have a skewed
understanding of history as
Mr. Beveridge has embarrassingly portrayed.
John Stuart Mill the English political philosopher affirmed in his
1861 essay, “Representative Government” that, “Representation should
be co-extensive with taxation, not stopping short of it, but not going
beyond it, is in accordance with British Institutions.” In other
words, taxation without representation is
tyranny - just as the Colonial era Tea Party and their modern day
patriot cohorts have more recently restated. Imagine that, John
Stuart Mill - a Tea Party guy!
Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill have little in common with
the grossly miseducated polemicists of today’s progressive liberal
ideologues. If Mr. Beveridge would just examine his own words in
describing stupidity with the example of Nazi’s, “played on the fear
of socialism.” Doesn’t he understand that Nazi’s ARE socialists?
Finally, “Hitler Signs” are not welcome at Tea Parties.

Matthew Schoech • via email

-- Jim Sanford is the nephew of Ernest Hemingway. His name was
misspelled in last week’s article on the author.
-- A photo in last week’s paper failed to note that an art fair on
the campus of Northwestern Michigan College is staged by the
Artcenter of Traverse City.
-- Last week’s Super Summer Calendar omitted the Leland Artist
Marketplace on July 10.
-- In a recent article about the Boardman River dams, the story should
have said that activist Norbert Tutlis worked under contract last year
for Charles Peterson, the entrepreneur who unsuccessfully sought to
operate the dams. He was also concurrently served as a paid consultant
for other people, he said.

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