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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

 

Northern Michigan Speaks: No Biomass Plants Here!

It’s time to move on, the community has spoken: no biomass burning. I call on Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) to honor their commitment to listen to the people and drop their plans to build one or more biomass burning plants in Traverse City.

No need to wait until April; let us all get on with the work of figuring out how to move forward with wood-fired power plants off the table.

At two forums held by Traverse City Light and Power this week several hundred people could hardly have been more clear: they don’t want any sort of biomass burning plants in Traverse City and think the whole concept of stopping global warming by burning wood ranges anywhere from suspect to tragically wrong.

Frankly, I was stunned.

Despite months of marketing and a dozen presentations where only pro-biomass presenters were invited, and despite TCL&P’s forums beginning with a pro-biomass presentation and many frustrated citizens walking out, about 90% or more of the participants last Thursday and Saturday opposed biomass burning.

At the forum I attended, all four break-out groups said no to biomass burning. My group voted 12-2 against it. Covering the walls of the room were all the concerns and questions people had about biomass burning. As far as I could tell only two people with financial ties to the biomass burning were for it, there may have been others.

I personally feel humbled by the depth of knowledge of our town. This wasn’t a not-in-my-backyard thing, though no one thinks more smokestacks and diesel trucks here is a good idea. The very idea that humanity could solve it’s energy or environmental problems by burning trees just didn’t make sense.

By the way, the forums seemed evenly divided between those from Traverse City and nearby communities; of course since Traverse City would be burning trees from far and wide and air and water pollution don’t stop at the city limit everyone SHOULD have a say.

A very interesting point was made that a $30 to $50 million bet on burning technology when the political landscape changes, the wood supply can’t support it, or just that it turns out (correctly) to not be so green after all, is risky business. Many believe that new technologies are just around the corner.

However most people seemed opposed to biomass burning no matter what the other options might be and would rather conserve deeply than burn our trees.

A couple very interesting things were revealed by TCLP at the forum in response to questions.

First, TCLP admitted that even if biomass had been a go TCLP would still sign a coal (or natural gas) contract for the foreseeable future. Burning trees could never replace burning fossil fuels.

Second, under questioning from a Sierra Club representative TCLP could not commit to not burning whole, green trees.

Third, TCLP had to admit there is NO working model of wood-fired plant of the type they are proposing (10 megawatt or larger combined wood and heat gasification.) Traverse City would be home to experimental technology that one biomass plant operator told me sounded very problematic.

The consensus seems go with natural gas (which is a local resource) for now. Our community could achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions TODAY by turning to natural gas.

Despite the ridicule of some many in our community (70% accord to a TCLP survey) believes strongly that the only way out of this mess is to use less energy. There are no easy solutions. That’s my belief.

People at the forum I attended strongly supported wind of all sorts. There is a local wind turbine manufacturer.

People are smart. They know wind is not baseload but want as much as we can get. Some ingenious ideas for storage that might make wind baseload were mentioned. Many other ideas were floated—hydro, landfill methane, solar, geothermal.

And it can’t be emphasized enough that people found TCLP’s sell first, listen later approach out-dated and unacceptable.

Personally I think everyone on TCLP has worked hard to do the right thing, but they were led down a garden path by a “renewable energy” industry up selling products and a government too willing to throw money at a problem whether or not it really makes sense or even works.

The terrible business practice of only inviting people who agree with you to the table did not help either.

My advice moving forward is that no community should gets it’s sole energy advice from people who stand to make money. Not biomass plant salesmen, not university departments that get funded by the timber industry, not even the DNR that gets a cut of the logging take.

I know that TCLP and our community will hunker down and keep moving forward with the very difficult question of how to meet humanities energy needs without destroying our environment in the bargain. This is the task before us, the task everyone around the world is about to be deeply engaged in as well.

And if someone tells you they have the answer and it’s going to be easy, or we can save the planet by burning things, don’t believe a word they say.

Jeff Gibbs
jeffgibbstc@gmail.com
Traverse City

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Working to make Michigan the Leader in Solutions - not pollution