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Manomet and its partners have released the results of a six-month study to better understand the implications of using wood for energy in Massachusetts, titled “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study.” The study was conducted for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. The full report, or its component chapters, can be downloaded below.
The central message of this study is that the carbon accounting for using wood harvested from Massachusetts forests for energy is more complex than most people previously thought. I hope the study will help prompt a more thorough discussion of using wood for energy in our society.
The study finds that the greenhouse gas impacts on the atmosphere of using woody biomass will be a function of the lifecycle of the biomass being used, the biomass energy technology and the fossil fuel technology it replaces, and the way landowners choose to manage their forests. It’s critical to evaluate these key parameters for assessing greenhouse gas emissions and not to draw categorical conclusions for or against all woody biomass energy. The conclusions will necessarily be different for different circumstances.
I encourage everyone to read the Manomet press release and at least the Executive Summary of the report before drawing conclusions about what the report says. Manomet has also issued a statement to aid in the interpretation of some of the misleading press coverage that followed the release of the report.
Manomet and our partners are keenly sensitive to the potential significance of this study. Manomet’s interest, as study leader, is to advance society’s understanding of using wood biomass energy, and not to promote or discourage forest biomass energy.
I hope you will agree that, with respect to understanding the greenhouse gas implications of using wood for energy, the team has made a valuable contribution to our scientific knowledge. To make sound energy policy, policy makers may wish to consider and evaluate these results, and balance them with many other societal values that the team was not charged to address in this particular study. With respect to energy policy, I hope you’ll agree that we all benefit from having a more in-depth understanding of the greenhouse gas implications of using wood for energy.
John M. Hagan, Ph.D.
Thomas Walker, Team Leader – Independent Resource Economist (email@example.com )
Dr. Peter Cardellichio – Independent Forest Economist (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andrea Colnes – Biomass Energy Resource Center (AColnes@biomasscenter.org)
Dr. John Gunn – Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Brian Kittler – Pinchot Institute for Conservation (email@example.com)
Bob Perschel – Forest Guild (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chris Recchia – Biomass Energy Resource Center (email@example.com)
Dr. David Saah – Spatial Informatics Group (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the year since our study was released in June 2010, three general critiques have been published. Links to these are provided below, along with Manomet’s responses. The most recent (May 26, 2011) critique was by William Strauss of Futuremetrics.
Strauss claims that Manomet’s debt-then-dividend accounting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ignores growth of the forest before the biomass harvest takes place. Strauss appears to misunderstand the policy question that was posed to us: the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources asked Manomet to quantify the benefit (or cost) in greenhouse gas emissions from increased use of forest biomass for energy generation. To answer the question, we considered the future GHG impacts of two scenarios. The first was a ‘control’ in which we estimated forest carbon stocks over time assuming continued fossil fuel burning and no increase in bioenergy production from wood. In the second scenario, we modeled the impacts on total forest carbon of using wood to produce an amount of energy equivalent to that produced using fossil fuels in the control scenario. We already addressed Strauss’s main criticism in our November 2010 response to O’Laughlin:
"When the focus is on how today’s decisions to generate more energy from biomass will affect future GHGs, past forest growth is irrelevant. The two primary drivers of future GHG impacts are (1) the relative levels of GHG emissions per unit of energy production for biomass and fossil fuels and (2) the future rates of carbon change in the forest in the control and biomass scenarios. Whether we start today with larger or smaller forest carbon inventories will not affect the predicted level of GHGs in either scenario. By choosing today as the starting point for analysis, we are not ignoring the existence of the biogenic carbon cycle. We are simply reflecting the commonsense insight that decreases in forest carbon stocks resulting from the harvest of biomass, relative to what these carbon stocks would have been in the control scenario, can result in a greater share of earth’s biogenic carbon ending up in the atmosphere instead of the forest. To properly calculate the change in atmospheric levels of GHGs by switching to biomass from fossil fuels, ‘today’ is the correct starting point for analyzing the future environmental impacts and benefits of implementing a new policy.”