Biomass is a form of renewable energy that doesn’t get as much attention as wind and solar, but it’s an important tool in our arsenal. A form of electricity that relies on burning wood and other waste for energy, biomass is a fully renewable, baseload power source that can run 24/7, making it a good source of back up power in some cases for intermittent sources such as wind and solar.
It’s good for the environment too, since biomass power producers here in the U.S. only use byproducts such as tree trimmings, nut shells, and rice and oat hulls as fuel. If not harvested for power, these byproducts will either be left to decompose, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere or will contribute to forrest fires if left in a dry, unmanaged forest. Currently biomass only represents around 2% of U.S. electricity capacity.
Sadly, biomass often is most often overlooked as an eligible resource in states Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) that mandate increased production of renewable energy resources. This disadvantages biomass when competing against other renewable sources of power.
Restrictions on harvesting woody debris from federal lands, too, have created major supply issues for biomass here in the U.S. This is especially unfortunate since wildfires are a major cause of air pollution and responsible forest management such as trimming trees can help reduce the risk of wildfires and the debris can be burned for fuel. California’s deadly forest fires from last year serve as recent evidence of the major damage that unmanaged forests can cause.
The good news is that some lawmakers seem to be taking note. Representative Greg Walden from Oregon, along with a group of 16 other lawmakers, introduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019.
“Oregonians and people across the West are preparing for yet another summer of air-choking smoke from yet another devastating wildfire season. We cannot allow this to become the new normal and cannot allow the status quo of failed forest management policy to continue. Enough is enough,” Walden said. “Studies from the Nature Conservancy and Forest Service tell us that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that active forest management will have the largest sustained carbon mitigation benefit.”
Representative Walden has a long record of advocating for biomass fueled electricity, even debating Al Gore on the subject back in 2009. His argument was simple: since we’re thinning the forests to reduce the risk of fires, it would be a huge waste to not use the excess woody material for electricity. That is sound logic, and we applaud Representative Walden and other biomass champions for continuing to make their case.
Ignoring biomass as a source of renewable energy is counterproductive to our goal of using all of the tools in the U.S. energy arsenal. We need every tool available to help make the U.S. energy independent, especially when a resource like biomass can both generate electricity and prevent carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires. Hopefully our lawmakers and the public in general will give this important renewable resource a closer look.