Thursday, October 18, 2007

LETTER-TO-THE-EDITOR

by Peggy Norton
Albuquerque Journal

I am so disappointed to read your editorial this morning regarding the proposed biomass plant. There has been a tremendous amount of controversy over this plant, and a lot of intelligent discussion. You totally ignore the other side of this issue and writeabout the project from the view of Mr. Cohen. The owners of this plant have taken advantage of many loopholes regarding the licensing of this plant. This is a new technology in the state and it needs to be done correctly because it will have a huge impact for many years. Numerous articles have been written in the Mountainview Telegraph, not only by Mr. Cohen, the owner but also by manty other people who disagree with the project. You would be doing your readers a service if you printed some of those articles from people who disagree with the plant. This is NOT clean energy, spewing 750 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere, which does not include diesel fumes and dust created by the trucks hauling wood. It is NOT renewable, because it necessitates burning trees that take 100-500 years to grow. It requires 10 milliontons of trees, if the plant is in operation for 20 years, and all these must come from within 50 miles of the plant. I think the Energy, Material and Natural Resources Dept. is wise to be looking ahead at the impact of this plant, and I wish the Environmental Improvement Board could have done so also. Do we really want to give $20 million in renewable energy tax credits for someone to clearcut our land and pollute our air? Wouldn't these monies be much better spent supporting solar and wind energy sources, which truly are renewable and clean?

Friday, September 28, 2007

EDITORIAL

STATE AGAIN REJECTS FOREST BIOMASS: Failure to Demonstrate Long-Term Fuel Availability and Lack of Harvest Plans

September 28, 2007
Bryan Bird, Forest Guardians

On Tuesday the Director of Energy Conservation Division rejected an application for critical tax credits from Western Water and Power Production LLC (WWP), a biomass energy company. The New Mexico legislature provided limited production tax credits for alternative energy development in the state, under the Renewable Energy Act amended in 2007. Only 296,273 megawatt hours per year (MWh/yr) of the original 2 million remain to be allocated between wind, solar and biomass projects.

Western Water and Power applied on August 29th for 274,000 of the remaining MWh, but was rejected on September 25. In applying for the tax credits, the biomass company is required to demonstrate "substantial long-term production potential." In rejecting the application, the state cited a failure to demonstrate the renewable character of forestbiomass or its long-term production potential and the failure to ensure clear cutting would not be necessary. The clean and renewable nature of biomass in New Mexico has been called into question by citizens in the affected area as well as Forest Guardians.

"Burning forests for electricity is neither a renewable nor a clean alternative for our energy future," said Bryan Bird, Public Lands Director at Forest Guardians. "Anyone driving through the Estancia Basin can see there is not enough forest to feed a biomass energy power plant. A juniper tree takes 200-300 years to grow to maturity in NewMexico; the biomass plant has a scheduled lifetime of 20-30 years. This biomass plant will be mining our local forests for electricity."

This facility would have emitted hundreds of tons of air pollution annually to produce 35 megawatts of electricity (enough for 28,000 homes) by burning natural forests harvested from private, state, and federal lands in the Estancia Basin of new Mexico. The debate about the emissions from the facility and the sustainability of this energy source has been heated. After recently receiving an air pollution permit from the state air quality bureau, this new rejection from the energy conservation division may prove the final blow to the Estancia facility. TheWWP application for tax credits is competing with a wind energy project for the final, remaining allocation of credits from the Renewable Energy Act.

With the rejection of WWP's application, the wind power project will take the first place in line for the credits. It is unlikely that the forest biomass facility will be viable without substantial tax subsidization. Residents in Torrance County, New Mexico became alarmed when the air quality and forest impacts were made public in the permit proceedings. "Biomass in the form of burning wood for fuel to generate energy does not seem practical for any desert state," Said Jan Eshleman, an affected resident, "This specific biomass plant will not onlymine our forest for fuel but will also mine water from an already compromised aquifer that's been closed by the state engineer in 2002."

In addition to the air pollution generated by the energy facility, other environmental impacts were equally disturbing. The electricity plant would have required 400 to 500 thousand tons of chipped forest per year or 40 to 50 truck loads a day. The impacts on regional forests and water supply areundetermined, but potentially significant.

Live trees continuously absorb carbon from our atmosphere, but once cut can no longer provide that service. Deforestation is the second principle cause of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Furthermore, burning trees releases carbon monoxide. This converts intocarbon dioxide, a direct greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. Besides the impacts to global warming, removal of trees from the forest eliminates biomass that would otherwise contribute to soil development and renewed grass, plant, and tree growth.

Western Water and Power LLC is co-owned by a Wall Street company, Allco Renewable Energy Group Limited LLC (http://www.allcorenewableenergy.com/), that is part of the U.S. based Allco group of companies including, Allco Finance Group Limited and Allco Equity Partners LLC with investments in "aviation, rail, high technology, water/wastewater, power, infrastructure and film, for a wide-variety of corporate and government entities."

Friday, September 21, 2007

EDITORIAL

Lawyer Has His Science Mixed Up
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The Mountain View Journal
by Bryan Bird, Forest Guardians

The Mountain View Telegraph has printed the Guest View of David Cohen (Aug. 30), a lawyer representing the corporation Western Water and Power Production LLC, for which he is also the president and chief advocate. WWP is the developer of a power plant south of Estancia that would burn forests to generate electricity.

It is up to the reader to judge Mr. Cohen's expertise in forest science and ranching in New Mexico, but some of his assertions require a response.

From the outset Mr. Cohen's scientific credentials are strained by his insistence that piñon-juniper forests are an infestation leading to forest fires and harm to the aquifer. Both are contradicted by science.

Piñon-juniper forests have expanded their range in the last century, but the exact cause is not clear: changing climatic conditions, livestock grazing, fire suppression, or some combination is likely to blame. What is clear is that we cannot control climate, but we can control the other factors. If we choose to clear grasslands of piñon and juniper, it will only be treating a symptom and not dealing with the root causes. Maintaining cleared grasslands will require grazing be curtailed and grass fires allowed to burn more regularly. Is that what Mr. Cohen advocates?

Mr. Cohen invokes sustainability, but unfortunately misapplies the concept. He confuses long-term human use of the land with self-sustaining ecosystems.

This is never more obvious when he refers to "rotting brush residue." We learn in high-school science that soil is built from decomposing organic matter. Without it, there would be only rock: trees and grass would not have the nutrients necessary to grow. Removing "rotting brush residue" robs us of our future soil and in turn is counter to the sustainability of life in the basin.

The Estancia Basin currently has nearly pristine air quality. Though the emissions from the biomass power plant may comply with air pollution standards, the smoke stack is still a new source, annually belching 231 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 221 tons of carbon monoxide, 48 tons of volatile organic compounds, 40 tons of sulfur dioxide, 79 tons of particulate matter, not to mention toxic chemicals including mercury and formaldehyde. This air pollution is not there now.

The power plant proponents have never provided satellite imagery or any other credible demonstration that sufficient "excess" wood is present for its 30-year lifetime. The power plant will require about 480,000 tons of chipped forest a year and to be cost effective, the forests providing the wood chips must be within a 50-mile radius. The USGS (http://ftp.nr.usu.edu/swgap/ demonstrates that there are 1.28 million acres of piñon-juniper on all state, federal and private lands in a 50-mile radius around Estancia. This includes the Sandia, Manzano and Gallinas mountains and surrounding foothills as well as the Chupadero Mesa, Clines Corners and other upland areas.

The Forest Service has reported from Nevada that piñon-juniper thinning produced 5 tons per acre on the low end and 20.6 tons per acre on the high end with the averages around 8 to 12 tons per acre (http://lcrda.com/images/ResourceConceptsAugust2004.pdf).

If one uses 10 tons per acre for a basic calculation, the result is less than impressive. If all acres of piñon-juniper in the 50-mile radius were aggressively thinned the plant could be fueled for 26.6 years. But realistically only a fraction of those acres will be available to WWP resulting in a grim projection for its viability and undue pressure on the basin's limited forests.

This calculation ignores the wood annually removed by local cutters for home heating in the region. Where will they go for wood? Forest Guardians continues to stand-by the NM Forest Restoration Principles but those guidelines only address forests other than piñon-juniper. (http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/spf/nm-restor-principles-122006.pdf

In fact, the principles addressing piñon-juniper harvest remain unfinished because the science is incomplete.

It is surprising to see WWP continue to exploit our anxiety about wildfire and water use in piñon-juniper forests. Fire in piñon-juniper forests is uncommon; grasslands tend to burn more often and more fiercely. It takes rare weather conditions and steep terrain to get a fire roaring through piñon-juniper. As for water and aquifers, the latest research from the basin, as reported in the Mountain View Telegraph on June 28, demonstrates that thinning piñon-juniper forests will have no recharge effect on the Estancia Basin aquifer. In fact, shallow soil moisture is recharged faster through the root systems of piñon and juniper trees than in bare grasslands.

The bottom line is that Mr. Cohen is grasping at straws to justify his corporation's ire to build a biomass power plant: a marginal proposition at best in our dry, lightly forested region. Now that WWP has received its air pollution permit from the state, the power plant is one step closer to reality. But biomass has a dark side and if we are going to seriously consider it as a power source in New Mexico, we must demand it be clean, renewable, and not unduly impact our water, wildlife and forests. The viable alternative is solar and wind, not coal, oil or gas.

Bryan Bird is Public Lands Director at Forest Guardians, a regional conservation organization that protects and restores wildlife and wildlands in the West. For more detailed information on the proposed biomass plant, visit http://www.biomassinfo.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 10, 2007

EDITORIAL

Biomass Poses 'Treacherous' Path
Friday, August 10, 2007
Albuquerque Journal
by Bryan Bird, Forest Guardians


As Gov. Bill Richardson and the state of New Mexico embark on their admirable Climate Change Action Plan, the pursuit of energy solutions, particularly clean, renewable and domestic, is on the fast track. The desire for a quick fix such as the proposed Estancia forest biomass facility is raising tough questions that require immediate attention. Without caution, we will do more harm than good to our health and environment.

Biomass is being pushed hard, both at the state and federal levels, as a domestic, clean and renewable energy along with solar and wind. The U.S. House passed a bill Aug. 4, sponsored by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., which will require utilities nationally to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources and provides energy credits for electricity produced from biomass. However, without the appropriate controls on emissions, water consumption and forest cutting, this path is treacherous.

Biomass energy generally comes from three sources: burning wood, burning waste, and burning alcohol fuels. Wood energy may be produced from trees harvested for fuel (both from plantations and native forests) as well as from wood waste streams (construction, green waste, etc.). What should be of concern to us, the owners of federal and state forestlands, is that trees and brush would be harvested from forest lands for the sake of energy production at the expense of other critical services including: carbon sequestration, water storage and purification, wildlife habitat, and real estate values (aesthetics).

The fundamental problem with burning wood to generate energy is that it is not always clean, nor is it necessarily renewable. In most incarnations, native woody biomass does not belong in the nation's renewable energy portfolio, it belongs in the forest, building soils and storing carbon. Burning woody material generates air pollution and releases greenhouse gases, not to mention toxic air pollutants such as formaldehyde. Expensive air pollution controls can reduce these emissions to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards or better, so that burning trees could feasibly be cleaner than coal or natural gas.

Most if not all energy sources produce greenhouse gasses and air pollution both in production and maintenance of facilities, but discounting these sources, only solar and wind are in fact zero emissions. Forest biomass energy could be "carbon neutral" and offset greenhouse gas production, but only under very controlled conditions such as fast-growing plantations and if there was a guarantee that an equal amount of energy would not be generated elsewhere with fossil fuels.

Whether forest biomass is renewable is equally subjective; forests are complex systems. A forest wastes nothing and depending on climate and other local conditions may take hundreds of years to reach maturity. But power plants need fuel now and will eventually outstrip excess woody growth that may have built up through years of fire suppression.

Before long, we'll be mining forests for electricity just as we do coal. Biomass energy facilities require cooling and enormous amounts of water. Depending on where a facility is located, water can be a significant limiting factor and there is simply no evidence that thinning forests contributes to long-term increases in water yield.

Before we rush to burn our forests for a tiny amount of our overall energy consumption, some difficult questions must be answered. Once these questions are honestly addressed with such proven tools as full life-cycle accounting of greenhouse gasses, the answers will point directly to solar and wind as the only viable, long-term solutions currently available. Then, of course, there is the simplest solution of all— reducing our individual and cumulative consumption of energy.

Bryan Bird is Public Lands Director at Forest Guardians, a regional conservation organization that protects and restores wildlife and wildlands in the West.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

SUMMARY OF BIOMASS ISSUES

The proposed Estancia Basin Biomass Power Plant will pollute the air and deplete precious natural resources. What happens when there are no more trees to harvest and the water runs out and there are law suits filed by citizens who develop serious health problems? Would you want this plant in your neighborhood? Would you want this to be your legacy?

Concerned citizens request that you review this matter. We have provided an executive summary below and a detailed PowerPoint presentation with facts and figures to support our position.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The New Mexico Renewable Energy Act of 2004 requires public utilities to purchase no less than 10% of their energy from clean renewable energy sources by 2011 and 20% by 2020 to promote energy self-sufficiency, preserve the state’s natural resources and pursue an improved environment in New Mexico.

What the Power Plant is NOT

The proposed Estancia Basin Biomass Power Generation Plant is NOT a clean renewable energy source; it does not preserve the states natural resources and will be a major source of pollution … a detriment to New Mexico’s environment.

NOT Clean

This plant is predicted to generate over 700 tons of pollutants ever year. The major ones are (see slides 8 – 10 for a complete list):

• Nitrogen Dioxide – 231 tons
• Carbon Monoxide - 221 tons
• Volatile Organic Compounds – 48 tons
• Sulfur Dioxide – 40 tons
• Particulate Matter (total suspended) – 79 tons
• Many toxic chemicals including mercury and formaldehyde

This list does not include the emissions generated by equipment and trucks used to harvest and transport the trees.

Burning trees releases greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
• NOx is 360 times as harmful as CO2
• CO becomes CO2 in the atmosphere

Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is a major contributor to Global Warming – So why build a plant that you know will add to the Global Warming problem? Why not build a plant that is solar or wind powered --- clean and renewable sources of energy!

NOT A RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCE

Not a renewable energy source – Biomass harvest cannot exceed forest growth in order to be renewable and should not qualify as a renewable energy source under REA if this is exceeded

• Estancia biomass will burn 55 tons of trees per hour or 480,000 tons per year
• At 0.66 tons per acre of actual renewable biomass (USDA Forest Inventory database), the plant would require 720,000 acres of National Forest
• The Sandias, Manzanos, and Gallinas combined only have 337,000 acres
• Assuming a generous annual growth rate of 0.24 tons/acre in pinon-juniper forests, the currently leased 43,000 acres of state lands will yield about 10,000 tons of renewable biomass per year. This would only be enough renewable biomass to power the Estancia plant for 7.5 days. These lands will have to be clear cut and this by definition is not renewable.


DOES NOT PRESERVE THE STATE’S NATURAL RESOURCES

• Water - In a closed basin that is running out of water the transfer of 457 acre-feet per year (1828 houses) of consumptive use has been requested for the biomass plant
• Road damage - Dramatic increase in road traffic especially rural roads, repairs to roads paid for with tax dollars, results in need for more tax dollars that are not coming from WWP because they have been awarded tax breaks.
• Fire - Increased fire risk due to increased human access and large slash piles
• Traffic accidents - due to increased road traffic
• Soil damage and erosion from thinning/hauling
• Wildlife Habitat damage

So the proposed Biomass Plant is not clean, is detrimental to the environment, contributes to global warming and is a health hazard (consequence of pollutants) to citizens. AND solar and wind powered energy (clean and renewable) ARE an option. WHY BUILD THE BIOMASS PLANT AS PROPOSED? No sane person would move forward with such a plant. Do you want this responsibility on your shoulders?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Op-eds and Letters

Guest View: Is Clean Air Worth a Few Jobs?
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Op-ed, Mountain View Telegraph

By Jan Eshleman

The proposed biomass energy plant, theoretically a "clean and renewable" source of energy, to be built south of Estancia raises concerns on several fronts. The plant itself promises to put "no more than 230 tons a year" of nitrogen oxides and "221 tons a year" of carbon monoxide into the New Mexico air, this according to Jack Maddox, vice president of Western Water and Power Production Limited, LLC.

In addition it would also contribute 40 tons of sulfur dioxide, 48.3 tons of volatile organic compounds (including formaldehyde) and 58.9 tons of particulate matter into the air. Incidentally 34.4 tons of the total particulate matter would measure 2.5 microns or less, small enough to infiltrate your lungs but not large enough to cough out. These numbers come from WWP's permit application from the New Mexico Department of Environment Air Quality Bureau. As of this writing, the Air Quality Bureau will probably issue a permit to Western Water and Power.

Despite the tonnage of pollutants these numbers still meet the current standards for allowable emissions. It is interesting to note that under this nation's Clean Air Act, because this plant will produce emissions above 100 tons it is classified as a "major source of pollution." The wording alone makes it difficult to see this as a "clean" source of energy.

Currently the primary source of fuel for the plant is to be piñon and juniper harvested from a 40,000-acre parcel of State Trust Land between Gran Quivira and Abo pueblo ruins. According to averages calculated by archaeologists in the State Land Office there could be 800 archaeological sites in this area. Western Water and Power acquired the lease during a public auction held Dec. 28, 2006.

Curiously, WWP was the only entity that was qualified to bid according to the parameters drawn up by the State Land Office, despite the fact that there were others who wanted to bid in this "public" auction. As for the fuel, piñon and juniper— piñon trees taller than three feet are generally 50-230 years old in New Mexico, and the U.S. Forest service recommends 200-year-rotation management for juniper.

This time frame seems to push the envelope on defining this type fuel as "renewable." Even the economic viability of this plant seems questionable. Phil Reese of Reese-Chambers runs an apparently successful 50-megawatt biomass plant near Los Angeles, Calif. He said many new biomass plant developers "grossly underestimate their fuel costs and seriously, seriously, seriously underestimate their operating expenses." He also said that if this plant cannot sell electricity at 9 cents per kilowatt hour "they'll never make it."

Two things to note here; half of California's biomass plants have closed due to economic inviability and Western Water and Power cannot charge more than 6.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Twice PNM rejected WWP's proposal quite likely because it did not seem economically viable. Enter Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Heather Wilson. All of a sudden the proposed plant now seems economically viable— hmmm ... For how long? Will it be built and never operate? Or maybe operate for a year? Will it really be able to provide the "long-term" jobs that they say it will? Will Torrance County be stuck with a steel dinosaur when they leave?

The other concern might be water. The proposed site of the plant is in a "critical management area" of the Estancia Basin. Yes they will be sharing existing water rights with the greenhouse and have currently applied for a diversion of 453.78 acre-feet for consumptive use. That 453.78 acre-feet would provide water for more than 900 homes. In a 2001-2002 brochure published by the Estancia Basin Regional Water Plan it was estimated that "there is only a 120-year water supply in the basin at current use, and accelerated new water rights applications (12,847 acre-feet since 1995) further threatens that supply."

The 50-megawatt plant in California uses 800 gallons of water per minute, this is evaporative use (consumptive use) in its cooling towers. This is called "wet" cooling. The current request for diversion of 453.78 acre-feet would provide Estancia's biomass plant a maximum of 250 gallons per minute. Granted, this is a 35-megawatt plant, not 50; granted some of the cooling will occur as excess steam is piped through the greenhouse for heating. Note too that the greenhouse doesn't need heating in much of the spring, none of the summer nor much of the fall, and WWP plans to keep the dust level down on the roads in and out of the plant with water trucks.

You could ask questions like why Western Water and Power is using "wet" cooling technology instead of "air" cooling as is being used in Arizona and Nevada. And you might ask why WWP is not using a catalytic converter that could reduce its overall emissions by nearly 50 percent. Another question you might ask is the logic behind burning trees that will emit tons of carbon monoxide (that becomes carbon dioxide when it hits the atmosphere) when it is those very trees that absorb carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen in return. In New Mexico that is science that third-graders learn!

Some have characterized juniper as "tumbleweed trees." Even if that is how you view them they still make oxygen that we as humans cannot live without. The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has said "Deforestation is the second major way we increase atmospheric carbon dioxide." Second only to the burning of fossil fuels! In the current scenario it seems that the residents of the Estancia Valley are being asked to choose between having water and clean air or having a few new jobs for a while maybe. It seems the more important question to ask is why not generate this electricity by wind or solar power and not have to sacrifice water or clean air, but maybe a few jobs.



New Mexico Renewable Energy Act Needs Teeth
March 10, 2007
Op-ed, Albuquerque Journal

By Bud Latven

Designed to provide clean renewable energy for the state of New Mexico, the Renewable Energy Act (REA) of 2004 has a major loophole designed to allow biomass power plants to emit acid rain pollutants (nitrogen oxides) at a rate which is over 50% of typical coal fired plants in the US. In recent speeches Governor Richardson even touted biomass as a "clean" renewable source of energy. He may come to regret this ill-considered comment.

The REA defines "renewable" as energy generated by solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass. This leaves the general public with the false impression that biomass is a clean energy alternative. This is aggravated by a little known loophole in the act which is called the "zero to low emission technology" standard.

At first glance one would think that low emission technology means that energy producers are required to install the best available pollution control equipment to minimize toxic emissions. This is not the case. In reality there is no numeric standard set for what low emissions actually are so the Air Quality Bureau of the Environment Department simply regulates biomass under the same guidelines as a typical coal fired plant.

EPA's national emission tracking system estimates that an average coal fired plant in the US emits nitrogen oxides, the stuff of industrial pollution and acid rain, at a rate of 2.8 lbs per hour per megawatt of power. A recently proposed biomass plant for Estancia valley in central New Mexico, if built, plans to emit nitrogen oxides at a rate of 1.5 lbs per hour per megawatt. This is a rate over 53% of a typical coal fired plant. This plant plans to emit over 230 tons per year of nitrogen oxides, 220 tons of carbon monoxide and hundreds of tons of other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and small particulates.

This problem is not unique to New Mexico. The deceptive and meaningless "zero to low emission" qualification can also be found in other state renewable energy acts. It appears that this qualifier was intentionally designed to allow biomass to slip into the renewable energy portfolios of energy companies to help them meet their renewable energy requirements without actually being required to ensure their suppliers use the best available technology to reduce emissions. PNM can turn its cheek on "clean" and buy dirty energy from biomass while at the same time preach their "Sky Blue" program to the public.

To add insult to injury, biomass, like coal, is not only a dirty energy alternative, it siphons valuable funds away from truly clean energy alternatives like solar and wind.

Without a numeric standard, biomass electric producers have no incentive to install more costly pollution controls. Quite the contrary. The Estancia biomass plant appears to be designed to be just under the 250 tons per year threshold for stricter pollution controls. If the 250 ton per year threshold were exceeded, more costly pollution controls would be required by state law. Further, since the plant design is based on the consumption of thinned wood, if the plant decides in the future to burn other fuel types and exceed the threshold, it won't be required to upgrade the facility since it won't be cost effective. In effect they're allowed to produce the highest rate of pollution at the least cost. And you can blame them because they want to minimize costs and maximize profits.

It's really a legislative issue. True low emission technologies are available that would greatly reduce emissions; there's just no political will to require energy producers to install them.

It's a public deception, one where politicians pronounce their support for clean energy alternatives while management agencies like the Public Regulation Commission and the Environment Department know that biomass is a dirty little business. It's time our legislators get down to the work of putting some real teeth in the Renewable Energy Act and establish a true standard for low emission technology. If we lead the way, maybe other states will follow suit.




Energy plan is ill-conceived
December 21, 2006
Letters to Outlook, Albuquerque Journal

By Bud Latven

If you support the PNM Energy Rebate plan you may be unwittingly contributing to the future destruction of forest health and archaeological resources in New Mexico. You may also be contributing to the emission of large amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and fine particulate pollution. This ill-conceived plan was developed with the encouragement of Governor Richardson in an attempt to spur the development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar and the use of biomass as a renewable resource. This last is the main culprit.

A recent PNM newsletter sent out to all its customers talks about “a new 35 megawatt biomass power plant owned and operated by Western Water and Power (WWPP)… the first utility-scale biomass plant in New Mexico… to go into service in 2009 … located in Torrance County.” This plan says it will use forest thinnings as fuel from forest and rangelands to help “reduce hazardous fuels and restore ecological health.” What it doesn’t say is that a consuming need for these fuels will unalterably change the management of forest and rangeland from one of preservation and conservation to one of fuels management and production.

We have already seen this in a recent objection to a USFS plan to exploit 17,000 acres in the Manzano Mountains to fuel this same proposed biomass plant. Local residents joined hands and strongly opposed the USFS management plan to cut 33 miles of fire fuelbreaks and 17,000 acres for thinning projects to protect about a dozen homes. It was a blatant attempt to use the Bush Healthy Forests initiative to exploit forest products at the expense of forest health. Local residents forced the Forest Service’s hand on this issue and they reluctantly backed off.

With this setback, the WWPP is now looking to purchase at auction 40,000 acres of pinon and juniper on state lands directly adjacent to Gran Quivira National Monument south of Mountainair, New Mexico. This land is covered with archaeological ruins including full-sized pueblos and many rock art sites. Calls to the Salinas National Monument and the State Historic Preservation Division showed that neither agency was informed about the proposed State Land Office auction set for December 28 this year.

An upcoming state mandate will require PNM to produce a percentage of its energy from renewable sources by 2010 so now PNM is pushing the biomass plant concept without giving serious consideration as to where these fuels will actually come from. They are leaving that up to the state and federal agencies who are now getting pressure to produce fuels to help PNM meet the state mandate through biomass use. This is shaping up to be a major conflict between the maintenance of forest and rangeland health and the need for commercial products. Environmental lawsuits are sure to follow.

So if you are supporting the PNM Energy rebate plan, you may be in effect supporting the mismanagement of our forests, the possible destruction of archaeological sites and the pollution of the air we breathe. The State Government, PNM and the biomass industry would like you to believe that biomass fuel use is a benign healthy alternative to fossil fuels like solar and wind but when you look at the actual effects to the environment, it’s anything but that. And we have to live with the results.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Who to contact

Government

Others

Press