To The Editor:
The June 2 article by Mr. La Rocque, although comprehensive and well written as always, was nonetheless misleading and biased. A clue to this can be found in his subheading, “Over $100 Million To Be Invested, More than 150 Jobs To Be Created.”
This strongly implies that it is a fait accompli when in fact it appears no more than another pie in the sky project dreamed up by outside entities. Biomass conversion from wood to oil will never happen in Berlin.
[private] So many problems, so little space. But two areas stand out like tall oak trees in a clearcut: economic feasibility and environmental degradation.
For starters, I would summarily reject any proposal in Eastern Rensselaer County that requires 100 million dollars from a range of government agencies in this era of government retrenchment. What on earth are they thinking? Lining up grants of this magnitude from a plethora of agencies poses a fundamental situation — the success of one grant is predicated on monies coming from another grant, and so on, creating an impossible chicken-egg conundrum. Biomass was a hot item a few years back when the price of WTI crude oil was north of $100 a barrel. Even then it required significant government subsidy to come to fruition. So how do these people propose to cope with the current oil pricing situation which will hover between $30 and $50 a barrel for the foreseeable future? It will bankrupt the companies and, if Berlin is not careful, it will be stuck with the tab. One has to look no further than the failed biomass project in Pownal, VT, which garnered fierce opposition from many quarters, citing excessive noise, light pollution, and nausea-causing smell. But the ultimate coup de grace was rendered not primarily by environmental concerns, but rather economic ones. The plant was just not economically feasible, even in the era (2010-11) of $100/barrel oil! Beaver Wood Energy withdrew the project principally on economic grounds.
Contrary to the tenor of the Eastwick article, which implies that biomass is a clean green solution to energy, considerable rethinking of this issue has occurred lately as scientists look more closely at the real costs to the environment. Rather than summarize my own thoughts on this, I shall quote from three respected environmental organizations on the subject of biomass’s predilection to environmental degradation:
National Resources Defense Council: “Counting all the carbon released and not sequestered, burning whole trees in today’s power plants will result in even more carbon pollution than coal or other fossil fuels for decades…there’s now plenty of scientific evidence and analysis to show that it is worse for the climate than burning coal.”(1)
The American Lung Association of New England (ALANE), in stating its position on biomass, expressed concerns about the toxic chemicals and particles emitted by the process of burning biomass and its effect on the environment and respiratory health. Biomass emissions contain particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and irritant gases that can scar the lungs. It also claimed biomass emissions contain known or suspected carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxin.(2)
Sierra Club: In its Conservation Policies, the Club states it opposes all biomass energy generation processes including fuel production which contribute to the destruction of existing forests, including national or native forests as well as remaining old-growth or road-less areas. The group is also cautious in supporting projects based on clean construction waste, forest byproduct waste or sustainable waste such as municipal tree trimmings because it feels there are incentives for plant managers to use unsustainable or contaminated fuel if there is a shortage of the intended supply. Sierra Club also worries that unless biomass operations are managed very carefully, they may not be sustainable and may add to the carbon dioxide problem. Also, there is a concern that biomass projects may rely on or create incentives for fuel derived from unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices.(3)
To add to the somewhat misleading tenor of the Eastwick Press article, several environmental terms were tossed about to enhance the green gloss on the project — terms such as “Renewable,” “Green,” and “strict renewable guidelines.” One must be very careful when a holding company with profit as its main motive bandies these terms about, serving up a juicy menu of attractive jobs to boot. All of this will vaporize at some point; the only question is how far the Town of Berlin will be sucked in when the final reality sets in.
These comments apply only to the biomass project, not to the aqua farm, which I totally support.
(1)Our Forests Are Not Fuel: Burning Trees For Energy is Destructive and Unsustainable, available at: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/nathanael-greene/biomass-not-carbon-neutral-and-often-not-clean
(2)Biomass Position Statement, available at: http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/what-makes-air-unhealthy/electric-utilities.html
(3)Sierra Club Conservation Policies: Biomass Guidance, available at: http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/energy/biomass-guidance.[/private]