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Biomass in NC: An Embarrassment of Riches?

PHOTO: Biomass pellets are used worldwide for energy generation, and they're growing in popularity in Europe. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: Biomass pellets are used worldwide for energy generation, and they're growing in popularity in Europe. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
December 6, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. – The rich forest growth characteristic of North Carolina and other East Coast states is feeding a worldwide need for biomass energy facilities, but a study released this week asks, “At what cost?”

The pellets are used primarily for power generation, although some are used for heating homes.

F.G. Beauregard, southeast sustainable bioenergy manager at the National Wildlife Federation, says the worldwide need for biomass is creating a demand for a precious resource that needs to be managed.

"We grow things really well down here,” she says. “We've got good sun and we've got good rain. Now, we've got a new game in town, with a new use for this wood."

The study by the National Wildlife Federation and Southern Environmental Law Center says the harvesting necessary for biomass threatens land cover, wetlands and wildlife habitats.

Last year's 70 percent growth in biomass exports from the South has made the region the largest supplier of wood pellets in the world.

Beauregard says lawmakers need to work more closely with companies harvesting wood for biomass to ensure it's done in ways that don't harm healthy forests or their inhabitants.

"We've got to get the right policies in place to make sure that we are harvesting biomass sustainably,” she says, “that we're ending up with a net benefit."

The report says much of the new demand for biomass is coming from the European Union, where there are directives and subsidy programs that encourage the use of the pellets to create energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC