Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Using wood for energy stirs timber-industry fears

Biomass facilities to produce renewable energy are facing challenges from some timber interests. In Georgia, three planned facilities have met with opposition because the woody material used to create energy is also used by timber industries. There is also concern from paper producers that the new plants could drive up prices of wood products.

“They’re going to see these guys as competition — and they may very well be,” Alva Hopkins, a spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Association, told Kate Galbraith of The New York Times. There is also fear that the new biomass facilities would require live trees for energy production. That fear appears to be well founded. Mike Price, the chief operating officer of the proposed biomass facility at Oglethorpe, Ga., said, "For a plant this size we will have to harvest some trees."

The switch to biomass from coal is taking place across the U.S., Galbraith writes: "Companies have in part been motivated by the looming possibility of stricter environmental controls for coal, as well as rising interest in renewable energy." Although coal-fired power plants will have to make adjustments to switch to biomass facilities, and the switch will diminish their output capabilities, many plants throughout the U.S. are beginning to making the switch. Still, many of the proposed facilities still have obstacles to overcome before they can be built. Their presence in the Southern U.S. appears to be growing in popularity in large part because traditional sources of renewable energy, namely wind and solar power, are less viable in the South. (Read more)

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