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."