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Is All Biomass Energy Green?

April 7, 2010

ST. LOUIS, MO. - Environmental advocates are raising questions about plans to build a large biomass-to-electricity generator in Perry County, saying it may not be as "green" as some claim it will be. Liberty Green Renewables of Indiana is using stimulus money for its plan to develop wood-waste generating plants in the Midwest and Southeast.

But, Kathleen Logan-Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, claims wood chip incinerators that create electricity are "green" in name only. The commercial-scale projects strip forests, she says, plus the emissions from burning forest material are much the same as coal-burning power plants.

"If they're dirty, dangerous, not sustainable, and they're not having a positive impact on carbon reduction, then perhaps we want to reconsider this technology and take a closer look."

Logan Smith admits biomass facilities on a much smaller scale have worked for some Missouri communities, but not ones that burn forest materials. Proven renewable energy projects will lose out if federal stimulus dollars go to projects that may do more harm than good, Logan-Smith says.

"It will get incentives and tax credits and programs that are designed for real clean energy, so that it will undermine the solar and wind and clean renewable energy development in Missouri."

While opponents claim carbon dioxide emissions from wood-waste burning are similar to those from coal-generated power, proponents argue that, since the trees would have died and decayed anyway, the net amount of carbon released into the biosphere is less than from mining and burning coal, which would not have naturally released its carbon. Liberty Green Renewables also says biomass will be particularly marketable in the Midwest and Southeast where solar and wind resources are less-favorable than other U.S. regions. Plant operations are expected to create 60-plus full-time jobs.

While utilities across the country are predicting growth in demand, particularly after an economic recovery, many environmental groups argue power companies and their customers could eliminate the need for additional power plants with greater investments in energy efficiency.

The public Forum begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Senior Citizens Center in Perryville, MO.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO