There’s some chatter, including in this weekend’s NY Times, about a Massachusetts Forest Watch report calling biomass energy a “false solution”. Many in the biomass industry and others refute that study. I’m going to stand somewhere in the middle. Biomass energy is likely to be part of the solution to our energy needs. It certainly is in the city where I live in Burlington, VT, where the McNeil generator is a big part of our energy equation. Biomass will be one plank of a good intermediate energy policy. On the other hand, it isn’t a panacea, and the energy we’d create from burning trees and plant matter isn’t going to satisfy our energy needs–at least not the way we consume right now. And we certainly saw an impact in food prices when we start selling food crops for fuel. What’s the alternative?
Not really an alternative as much as a starting point is energy-efficiency. Regardless uf how we produce energy–biomass, Gulf oil, nuclear, coal, solar, wind, hydro, or a generator attached to a bicycle–these less energy we use, the easier it is to produce it. The less energy we waste, the less energy we use. This is true at the macro scale for the country as a whole just as it applies in the micro scale down to individual homes. In homes, we can gain efficiency while actually improving comfort and the durability of the home (do it right!). When our clients ask for solar–and we do install solar–we’re happy to oblige, but we point them to energy-efficiency as the first step and the way to get more results for less.
So biomass or not, think efficiency first.