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Pinchot focus areas:

Climate & Energy
Jun 10, 2010

Contact Information:
Star Dodd, sdodd@pinchot.org, 202.797.6582

Massachusetts Releases Study of Environmental Effects
of Wood Biomass Electricity Proposals

Washington DC, June 11, 2010 – “Bioenergy technologies, even biomass electric power compared to natural gas electric, look favorable when biomass waste-wood is compared to fossil fuel alternatives.”  Thus concludes a study released this week by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, and by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, which funded the study.

The 6-month study, entitled “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study,” addresses a wide array of social, scientific, economic and technical issues related to the use of forest biomass for generating energy in Massachusetts.  Key components of the study include a full analysis of existing domestic and international biomass policies; a supply analysis of forest biomass availability based on competitive pricing for energy generation; and the atmospheric greenhouse gas implications of combusting forest biomass instead of fossil fuels for energy.  The Pinchot Institute provided a review of regulations and standards needed to ensure the sustainability of forest resources in light of potential increases in wood consumption for bioenergy.

Determining the sustainability of forest-based bioenergy is complex and requires evaluating a number of interrelated social, economic, and environmental values that people expect from forests. The analysis and recommendations within the study are specific to current policy issues in Massachusetts, particularly whether expanded use of wood biomass in place of fossil fuels in electricity generation is an effective means to reduce the Commonwealth’s carbon emissions.  In 1997, Massachusetts adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring electric utilities to generate at least 15 percent  of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.  

In addressing the specific question of whether wood biomass electricity can reduce carbon emissions relative to fossil fuels, the study concluded that carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated can be higher with wood, based on the more concentrated energy content of fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.  However, this conclusion is not meant to address the additional significant environmental, economic, and social effects of fossil fuel use, nor does it reflect that electric power generation from forest residuals and waste wood results in minimal if any net carbon emissions.  Both of these factors are important to consider in policymaking relating to opportunities to substitute renewable energy sources for fossil fuels.

For more information or to download the full report, please go to www.manomet.org or
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