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Jeff Gibbs

Jeff Gibbs is a writer and filmmaker living in Michigan.

November 4th, 2012 11:06 PM

"25 x 25" is a Big Fat Bio-Massacre

biomass, Corporate Greed, elections 2012, environment, environmental justice, Green Energy, Michigan

Please see update at bottom for a response to reactions to this post

In Michigan right now ballot Proposal 3 known as "25 x 25" would require our state to get 25% of its electricity from "renewable" sources by the year 2025. "25 x 25" is being sold as all about solar panels and wind mills. It's not. Far more than anyone suspects, it's going to ramp up the dirtiest form of energy of all: biomass burning. Incinerating trees in the name of "green energy." And it must be stopped if we care about climate change, clean air and thriving forests.

Yes that's right, in the name of saving the planet and renewable energy we are about to make things worse. For those unfamiliar with biomass burning, it releases more carbon dioxide and more harmful particulates than even coal. Logging for biomass can drastically reduce biodiversity and set back a forest's ability to sequester carbon dioxide for centuries. Most environmentalists oppose it. Or used to.

Michigan environmental groups promoting "25 x 25," whose goals such as stopping climate change I otherwise support, have insisted there will not be much biomass burning. Their campaign shows images of wind and solar exclusively.

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Clean Water Action

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Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs

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Green Energy Future

But this is what we are actually going to get. I call it a bio-massacre:

 

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Massachusetts logging for biomass

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Michigan trees chipped for biomass

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New Hampshire biomass plant

Don't believe it? It was hard for me grasp as well. Still, there was that little word "biomass" in the definition of renewable energy. So I decided to check for myself.

Here was my first stunner: the national "25 x 25" Steering Committee seems to be 100% agribusiness and logging interests. Ethanol and biomass. On their bios are found the words cattle, corn, biomass and forestry, not solar or wind.

The national "25 x 25" mission statement reflects this commitment to biofuels and biomass:

25x'25 Vision: By 2025, America's farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.

When questioned about national "25 x 25" being primarily big ag and big timber, Michigan "25 x 25" supporters responded saying they have little to do with the national organization. Really? That's odd. Because the national "25 x 25" organization brags on their website that they have influenced state laws and they include Michigan as a place where good things are happening.

And then the Michigan 25 x 25 Jobs and Energy Report was released. It was produced at Michigan State University, our state's agricultural college. It was written not by the solar and wind department, but by faculty from the Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics Department with a huge vested interest in biomass and biofuels.

The report projects a nearly 300% increase in biomass. The red line on the chart below indicates the projected increase in biomass plant staffing.

2012-11-04-biomassjobyears.jpg The authors of the report also aren't shy about describing the new opportunities for their friends:

... the impact to the agricultural and forestry sector is anticipated to be... significant. Accounting for direct and indirect impacts due to feed stock procurement, transportation, logistics, storage etc., it is expected that biomass generation under a 25% RPS will result in nearly 12,000 job years.

(Please note: boosters of "25 x 25" routinely turn "job years" into "jobs" - e.g. one job for 25 years is 25 "job years." This means 75,000 "job years" gets turned into 75,000 "jobs" when it should be more like 3,000.)

And just what is the aforementioned "feedstock procurement?" In large part, logging. Ah, the wonderful green jobs! Logging, trucking, installing air quality control equipment, using bulldozers to move around giant piles of wood chips lest they spontaneously combust like this fire at Biomass One in Oregon, or this entire biomass plant that exploded in flames.

So widely known (except to the public) is this new opportunity for "green energy" that "Biomass Magazine" has already alerted its readers. The magazine cautions though, that making "25 x 25" a constitutional amendment might be a mistake because it could draw "scrutiny and introduce more controversy than legislative action..." Yes that's right, it's easier to sell a bio-massacre beyond closed doors.

But there's more. The burning of woody biomass isn't all we're going to get. The chart below reveals a big helping of biogas as well as biomass.

2012-11-04-biomassmarketcapacity.jpg

What are the other biogas and biomass sources besides trees and forests? Confined animal feed operations, landfill gases, burning garbage including old homes and tires, human and agricultural "waste." All have serious issues and depend on enormous fossil fuel intensive systems. But those are not my main concerns - it's the burning of the source of our clean air and clean water as "green energy" that is my nightmare. Only two great planetary systems are capable of soaking up the CO2, our forests and our oceans. It makes no sense to destroy either one of them.

But alas the bio-massacre isn't just in our future. It's the reality of "renewable energy" right now:

 

2012-11-05-burlington.jpg
Burlington, Vermont biomass plant. Note whole trees looking like matchsticks in this photo prior to chipping.

--In Vermont, the biggest single contributor to climate change and air pollution is their "green energy" facility. An enormous biomass burner that only produces a fraction of the energy of a fossil fuel plant.

--There is at least 15 times more biomass burning RIGHT NOW in Michigan than solar and wind combined. Given this, is it ethical for "Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs" to ONLY show solar and wind on its photo "tour" of Michigan renewable energy? Here is what they won't show you:

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Cadillac, Michigan biomass plant


2012-11-05-biomassbenzie.png

Enjoying Michigan's sustainable state forests


--Michigan State University, the source of the "25 x 25" report, has no wind and almost no solar yet has already obtained a permit to toss 24,000 tons of trees annually into their coal plant to meet their "renewable energy" goals, a feat which will actually increase the CO2 coming from the smokestack.

--In Holland, Michigan the Sierra Club has been fighting to stop a coal plant expansion. But Holland's "clean energy" plan is in large part biomass burning disguised as "combined heat and power." (The word "biomass" isn't mentioned until page 31 in the proposal. That's not an accident.)

So why are we getting so much burning in the name of green if wind and solar are such miracles? That's a story for another day. Suffice to say there are issues with solar and wind that cannot be wished away. One major problem is that right now wind supplies only about 0.3 percent of Michigan's electrical energy. To ramp that up to provide a significant share of our electricity would take tens of billions of dollars and 50 times more wind turbines than currently exist. Anyone think that's going to happen?

And so it all comes back to cutting and burning our forests for energy. They say we would never denude the land of trees, yet that is the most common way civilizations end. It doesn't happen in a day or a year, but blow by blow, cut by cut. We went though this once before. The trees are now smaller, stressed, and far less in extent. We won't survive doing it again.

 

2012-11-05-old1.jpg
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Michigan logging scenes from 120 years ago

It makes no sense to stop the tar sands, fight fracking, or end the horror of mountaintop removal to protect the living planet, if we then incinerate the living planet for energy. Let's get back to our "roots." Save the trees. Stand with them against any "renewable energy" scheme like "25 x 25" that calls incinerating trees and forests "green energy."

For more information about biomass burning go www.biofuelwatch.org.uk or to Partnership for Policy Integrity or this article I wrote.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 6TH, 2012, ELECTION DAY:

Some of my friends in the professional environmental movement have reacted as expected yesterday when I called them out for having allowed biomass burning to be a huge part of what Michigan is going to get under Proposal 3 or “25 x 25.”  Accusations and anger.

It went down the same way when we stopped a local biomass plant from being built in Traverse City a few years ago: we got yelled at, several PR firms were hired to fight us, and most of the paid environmentalists sat on their hands. Two people from the Sierra Club did show up a few times out of hundreds of meetings for which we were thankful but by NO means were the drivers of this movement.

The movement was initiated, advanced and completed by citizens. For the Sierra Club to claim otherwise is insulting and wrong. In the end, despite the attacks of biomass supporters, 99% of our community was against biomass burning and the plan was withdrawn.

Now the accusations by biomass supporters are wild and desperate once again. They imply that I, a producer for Michael Moore, producer of a film about the radical environmentalist Paul Watson, might be in bed with or somehow aiding the Koch brothers. It’s a common tactic for those unable to deal with facts to resort to innuendos and slurs.  

Perhaps people who live in glass houses should hesitate to pick up stones.

Let me tell you whose funding IS affiliated with fossil fuel money: “25 x 25.” Follow the money. Something called the “Green Tech Action Fund” in San Francisco has put up $1.3 million for the Michigan “25 x 25” campaign.  Who funds the Green Tech Action Fund? That would be “The Energy Foundation.” Who funds the “Energy Foundation?” That would be Pew Charitable Trust in part, which is Sun Oil or Sunoco. Who else helped fund “The Energy Foundation?” The Rockefeller Foundation. Who is the Rockefeller Foundation? That would be Exxon.

Yes BOTH sides of the energy debate are funded by the same people: giant corporations, the 1%, fossil fuel and otherwise. 

Now I am not saying that everyone who has accepted money that in part originated with big oil money is automatically up to no good. I AM saying that that the world’s most powerful corporations, their corporate foundations, fossil fuel interests, investment bankers, and the uber wealthy, are NOT going fund the revolution that ends the growth machine that is killing the planet.

But they will fund “renewable energy” that includes biomass, ethanol, biofuels, etc. despite the insanity of burning trees or food or garbage as energy.

To be clear I have zero funding from anyone. I am a citizen doing what a citizen should do: not trusting what I am told by those in systems who think they know better than everyone, but checking for myself. And speaking out.

It was no accident I used facts from “25 x 25’s” own reports because I knew they would try to deny the biomass burning reality of green energy in our state; inquiries about biomass burning have been met with denials every step of the way. But supporters of “25 x 25” cannot refute my core contentions—not without calling their own experts and data wrong. 

THEIR forecast for three times more biomass burning comes from THEIR jobs and energy report. One of them is wrong; their experts or those in charge of rhetoric.

THEIR report indicates for at least ten times more biomass burning than solar panels and as much as wind. One of them is wrong; their experts or those in charge of rhetoric.

“25 x 25” also has not answered to why they mislead the public about what’s included in the definition of renewable energy. It’s indisputable that biomass burning is on the ballot proposal.

And if this gets in the Michigan constitution do you REALLY think green groups can control timber and agriculture interests who make billions from biomass and biofuels? Look how hard it is to stop fossil fuel plants, and now we want to add more biomass, biogas and biofuel plants?

“25 x 25” has also not answered why they wildly exaggerated the jobs report by turning “job years” into jobs thus misleading the public.

And I have to tell you that the more I look into the reality of biomass burning in Michigan the uglier it seems. When I heard rumors that toxic creosote laden railroad ties and old houses were being burned as green biomass I thought that be hidden from the public. But no, it’s being bragged about on their website. Apparently railroad ties are being brought in from as far away as Canada, since Canada does not want this toxic stuff being burned in their own backyard.

This should come as no surprise because for a long time the largest green energy facility in Michigan was the giant waste incinerator in Detroit. Instead of “clean coal” we have “clean trash burning.”

There might be a few cases where burning off landfill gases is better than letting it escape but calling this green and subsidizing it as renewable energy is wrong because it subsidizes a giant environmental mistake.

Claims have been made it’s going to be “farm waste” as biomass. Well, in Michigan the reality of biomass burning is indeed 99% burning trees supplemented with “waste” on occasion. But let’s talk about burning to stop climate change for a minute. Burning farm “waste” does indeed like burning anything release CO2. That’s just physics. The concept of turning “waste” to energy is highly flawed and dependent on waste streams from fossil fuel intensive farms and CAFO’s. 

Michigan voters should turn down Proposal 3 which will put in BIOMASSS BURNING in our state constitution.  THAT is a green nightmare. And environmental groups paid to promote “25 x 25” ought to learn that attacking citizens who speak out, is the wrong way to go.

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