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Biomass in VA: 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 10, 2013

MERRIFIELD, Va. – The rich forest growth characteristic of Virginia and other East Coast states is feeding a worldwide need for biomass energy facilities, but a new study 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."

Virginia Tech researchers helped with the study released by the National Wildlife Federation and Southern Environmental Law Center.

The report 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.

The study cites 16 existing or planned wood-to-bioenergy facilities in Virginia. Researchers say at least two of them will have a potentially high impact on forests and wildlife habitat in the state.

"They're big facilities, they're hungry facilities, they need a lot of material,” Beauregard points out. “So they're going to be collecting a lot of material from the landscape."

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.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - VA