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Every year 24,000 people die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Every year 38,000 heart attacks occur because of pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Every year 12,000 hospital admissions and 550,000 people suffering asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.

Every year, coal-fired power plants release 48 tons of mercury nationwide.

Power plants release over 40% of total U.S. C02 emissions, a primary contributor to global warming...

...and yet the coal industry wants you to believe that building more coal fired power plants in Michigan is a good idea!

...and now utilities want to burn (as biomass) our trees that capture and store harmful carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need to live



Current Challenges to the utilization of biomass for energy production.

  • Renewable Resource Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) allotment limitations
  • Can't compete with other energy producing technologies on a pure merchant basis
  • Difficulty with Permitting (PSD, water, air)
  • Fuel supply (cost, availability, long term viability of fuel supply,  market escalation
  • Site selection driven by fuel supply
  • Jobs (full time jobs 25 jobs typical)
  • Economics (levelized costs for operating a biomass plant are currently $110-130 per Megawatt Hour)
  • Biomass is more expensive than wind and is unlikely to be able to complete with wind as the costs of wind generated power decrease, and the cost of biomass increases.
  • Building a biomass plant is expensive $100,000,000.00 is typical
  • Combined heat and power (wind is the biggest competition)
  • Biomass plants typically operate at only about 20% efficiency. In other words 80% of the energy potential in the material being burned is wasted energy (unless that excess energy is also used to heat buildings)

Data extracted from the presentation of Mark Wiitanen of HDR

November 16, 2009 (Traverse City, Michigan)—Thanks to a presentation from a biomass plant salesman at last weekend’s energy conference at Crystal Mountain, we have a little more information about what a biomass plant would mean for Traverse City and why such wood and waste burners ought not to be installed in the name of green energy. (This is in addition to biomass being worse than fossil fuels even for the climate which the salesman didn't address one way or the other.)

Frankly the salesman, Mark Wiitanen of HDR link, didn’t seem like he had his heart in selling these things as he told the crowd:

  • Biomass fuels do include “whole tree wood chips” as well as construction debris, etc.
  • Despite the willingness to burn whole trees finding enough fuel is a real problem.
  • The sort of 5 megawatt plant planned for Traverse City—one of several actually—would have up to a FORTY ACRE FOOTPRINT including the giant piles of chipped up trees needed to fuel it. Five megawatts by the way, is only enough to provide electricity for one fifty-watt bulb per person in our region. We’re going to chip up our forests  for that?
  • Mr. Wiitanen said that at most biomass could only provide ten percent of renewable electricity needs. Wind he said, is far and away the dominant player. miles of the source material. Note to TCLP: that’s why shipping chipped up trees from the UP makes no sense. Note to area residents: better go see your state forest before the they get chipped up for our regions three existing wood burning plants to say nothing of bringing new ones on line.
  • Electricity from biomass burners is not cost competitive with fossil fuels, wind or hydro.
  • Biomass plants are only TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT efficient (most report the actual percentage as closer to 20%), worse even than a poorly made woodstove. Make sense since most of the wood is either a poor energy source like pine or aspen, and/or has to be dried using natural gas. Wood chips in giant piles don't dry so well and are a potential combustion risk.
  • Biomass burners should be built within 35 miles of the fuel source.

This is the primary basis for biomass having relatively high pollution levels: when something burns inefficiently, and already has a lot of STUFF in it besides the energy, its just going to put off a lot of junk. Of course you can clean it up through gasification and other tricks, but this takes A LOT of energy thereby making the efficiency even worse, and merely transferring the toxins to the ash thence to groundwater potentially.

The salesman gave a mixed report about the air pollution of wood vs. coal. Here is my take on it. Since wood is almost NEVER comes optimally and burns so inefficiently per unit of energy it is worse for ozone, very jagged and therefore harmful particulates, toxic VOC’s, and chlorine based compounds. Coal does contain more mercury and related emissions, and puts out more SO2.  But of course ALL other fuels aside from coal are a slam dunk in being less polluting than wood burning from petroleum to natural gas to wind to hydroelectric to nuclear. (Not that I support fossil fuels or nuclear, just saying something worse is not a way to go.)

(In a forthcoming biomass update I will be providing statements from American Lung Association and other defenders of air quality opposing biomass plants around the country.)

I repeat, NO fuel puts out as much CO2 as woody biomass burning with it's double whammy of inefficient burning and cutting living trees that were already capturing and storing CO2 quite fine, thank-you.

The more we learn about biomass wood burning—to say nothing about tire, house debris including treated lumber, insulation and roofing shingles, etc.—the more is just seems like the worse form of energy since we wiped out the whales for lamp oil.

Oh by the way, a sponsor of the energy conference, Jim McInnes, owner of Crystal Mountain, is also hoping to build a very large biomass plant in Mancelona. Hopefully in the light of more details about these plants and their deadly impact on the climate, air quality, and our forests, Mr. McInnes has a change of heart, as will TCLP.

Already seven of these plants in Michigan are consuming tens of thousand of acres of trees a year and plans for more are on the way. Billions of your dollars are up for grabs as subsidies and profits for energy companies and manufacturers; millions of dollars just in Michigan are proffered to scientists and non-profits to study and market various fprests for energy schemes.

We’re all going to have to work hard to slow the rush to install these plants before the public can figure out just how destuctive they are. And if they do get built, and the forests are run through in but a little while, we will be right back to where we started energy wise, except with forests either scruffy or missing in action.

  P.S. you can find audio of the biomass salesman’s presentation here —but of course you can’t see the slide that said “whole-tree wood chips” for instance-- http://www.mediafire.com/?zawghl5mmjo

Jeff Gibbs
Traverse City, MI

Quit Coal


Coal Kills

Coal Causes Disease

Coal Costs Taxpayers

Coal Pollutes the Environment

Coal Contributes to Climate Change

Burning Coal is a Seriously Stupid Idea!

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