US Forest Products Industry Nervous About Biomass-Fueled Generators

A biomass-burning power plant in Scotland. Image credit:EcoWarrior, Biomass Burner.
Wood-Fired Electricity; What's Not To Like?
Create new incentives for a massive industry to compete for a primary natural resource - trees in this case - and costs for existing consumers of trees will go up, as will adverse environmental impacts. Check out the title of this news release which appeared today on PR Newswire (via Yahoo): New RISI Biomass Study Finds Government Renewable Energy Mandates Would Lead to Unsustainable Harvests.
Seeing The Fuel For The Trees: An Upside Down View Of Forests
Is the pulp and paper industry going all tree-hugger over biomass burning power plants? Will lumbermen stand and defend the stands? Not quite. But, an industry market report on the future of biomass burning begins to address a critical question: what are the unintended consequences of biomass burning? Corn-base ethanol all over again?

The Emerging Biomass Industry: Impact on Woodfiber Markets -- published by RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, found that federal and state mandates, if fully implemented, would lead to over-harvesting of forests in the United States and are therefore unrealistic.

A full copy of the referenced study costs more than you or I will spend on TP in a lifetime. But, the idea of an industry study defending American trees against the prospective onslaught of utility-paid loggers, spurred on by 'well intended' government incentives, is rich indeed.

What preceding trends underpin the concern?

American forest products firms have, in recent years, unloaded millions of acres of forest lands - lands bought or accumulated via M&A.; Much of these heritage forest land holdings went to real estate developers (now dead in their tracks with the financial system meltdown), and land speculators (short on cash to pay for it) who will now be wanting to recover some value. Along comes "biomass burning".

If wood-fired electricity becomes popular, advertised as a climate friendly alternative to coal, given incentives by government, and accelerated by the booster rocket of a carbon cap and trade mechanism, demand for trees could reasonably be anticipated to drive the price of pulp wood out of reach of traditional industries. Hence the study.

Watch for land speculators and real estate interests to lobby for biomass burning incentives in Q1-2009. And, get ready to hug them trees.

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