Wood-burning power plants: Misguided climate change solution?

clip_image002By Steve Goreham

Originally published in The Washington Times

Is wood the best fuel to generate electricity? Despite wood’s low energy density and high cost, utilities in the US and abroad are switching from coal to wood to produce electrical power. The switch to wood is driven by regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other international organizations. These regulations are based on the false assumption that burning wood reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Wood has never been a major fuel source for electrical power. In 1882, when Thomas Edison built the first power plant in New York at Pearl Street Station, he used coal to fire the plant. A switch to wood is not going back in time; it’s adopting a fuel that was regarded as inferior at the dawn of the electrical age.

Pound for pound, wood contains less energy and is more expensive than other fuels. A 2008 study conducted at the Rapids Energy Center plant in Minnesota found that, compared to coal, more than twice the mass of wood was required to produce the same electrical output. A 2008 study by the UK House of Lords concluded that electricity from biomass was more than twice the cost of electricity from coal or natural gas. Nevertheless, an increasing number of electrical power plants are switching from coal to low-energy-density and high-cost wood fuel.

This irrational behavior is driven by the EPA, the US Department of Energy, the European Union, the California Air Resources Board, and other world organizations that assume that biomass fuel is “carbon neutral.” Biomass-fired plants receive carbon credits, tax exemptions, and subsidies from promoting governments.

When burned, biomass emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like any other combustion. A 2012 paper by Synapse Energy Economics estimated that burning biomass emits 50 to 85 percent more CO2 than burning coal since the energy content of biomass is lower than coal relative to its carbon content.

The “carbon neutral” concept originated in a 1996 Greenhouse Gas Inventory paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations. The IPCC assumed that, as biofuel plants grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned. If correct, substitution of wood for coal would reduce net emissions.

But a 2011 opinion by the European Environment Agency pointed to a “serious error” in greenhouse gas accounting. The carbon neutral assumption does not account for CO2 that would be absorbed by the natural vegetation that grows on land not used for biofuel production. Substitution of wood for coal in electrical power plants is actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Nevertheless, governments have adopted the “carbon neutral” assumption and continue to promote biomass as a substitute for coal. As a result, nations and utilities are not required to count their CO2 emissions from biomass combustion.

In July, Dominion Virginia Power completed conversion of its Altavista Power Station to biomass fuel, the first of three planned facility conversions at a total cost of $165 million. The change was lauded as a method to “help to meet Virginia’s renewable energy goal.” Virginia citizens paid for the conversion and will pay higher electricity bills in the future.

The Altavista station and other biomass plants claim to be using “waste” fuel that would otherwise be going into landfills. But according to the DOE, 65 percent of US biomass-generated electricity comes from wood and 35 percent from waste.

Finding sources of wood to feed ravenous power plants is not easy. The small wood-fired EJ Stoneman power plant in Cassville, Wisconsin is rated at 40 megawatts. Each day it burns 1,000 tons of wood delivered by 30 different suppliers. The 100-megawatt Picway power plant in southern Ohio considered a conversion to biomass, but could not secure a good wood supply. Picway will be shut down in 2015 when tougher EPA emission regulations take effect.

Following President Obama’s direction, the EPA plans to impose CO2 emission limits on existing power plants, requiring the shuttering of US coal-fired power stations. In 2012, 37 percent of US electricity was produced from coal, with only 1.4 percent produced from biomass. Without some common sense about CO2 emissions, look for expanded efforts to cut down US forests to feed a growing number of biomass plants.

The height of eco-madness is the conversion of the Drax Power Station in the United Kingdom from coal to wood fuel. Drax is the largest power plant in Europe, generating up to 3,960 megawatts of power from 36,000 tons of coal per day, delivered by 140 trains every week. In order to “reduce emissions” at Drax, more than 70,000 tons of wood will be harvested every day from forests in the US and shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain.

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Conversion of the Drax facility will cost British citizens £700 million ($1.1 Billion) and the new wood-fired electricity will cost double or triple the cost from coal. Drax Group plc will receive a subsidy of over £1 billion ($1.6 billion) per year for this green miracle.

Steve Goreham is Executive Director of the Climate Science Coalition of America and author of the book The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania.

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David Schofield

‘Harvested’ is too mild a word for what actually happens. Whole forests are bulldozed flat.
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324082604578485491298208114

Brian H

It only works if all the boats and trains bringing wood to Drax run on wood, too. ;p

Peter Miller

Re: Drax power station in the UK.
You could not make this up – importing 70,000 tonnes per day of wood chips from the USA!!!!!
However, the UK’s incredibly goofy energy policy makes the EPA in the USA seem quite reasonable.
Sadly, the UK needs a really cold winter, power shortages and tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths from the cold to make ‘the greener than thou’, so called political elite do the right, economically sensible, thing – i.e. put green energy in history’s trash can of really goofy ideas that cost a fortune and did not work.
There is however a large and growing number of people asking the very obvious question: “So where is the warming and why do I have to pay so much for your stupid theories?” In the not too distant future, these people will become a large majority.

These people need to be seriously MOCKED. Maybe then things will dawn in their brain.
Then again maybe not.

The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley

Peter Miller is correct, of course. Here in the UK we have a total twat named Ed Davey, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Our MPs, government, parliament, and the EU are stark raving mad. They cannot ‘do’ mathematics. But perhaps I’m being rather hard on them, because there is another theory: that they know full well what they’re doing, and that if you trace their personal investments, you’ll find things that will stun you. As Peter says, we may need a major energy upset to change things, just as we may need a major incident before we do something about immigration, the justice system, and the Human Rights legislation.

kalsel3294

In it’s raw form wood is carbon neutral, but the energy expended in harvesting, processing and transporting it, generally in the form of fossil fuels i.e. diesel oil changes that.
The cost of a fuel delivered to a power plant is a reflection of the energy expended in extracting or harvesting and transporting it, thus wood by virtue of the fact more tonnes of it are needed, and in this case the distance of transportation makes one wonder just what the bright sparks pushing this agenda are thinking.
But that’s not all folks. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is the nutrients that are being dragged out of the soil by the trees which must be replaced if the soil is to remain productive and not rendered infertile over time. The supply of essential nutrients is in my opinion going to become one of the greatest challenges for future generations as the world attempts to feed an ever increasing population.

There is no logic in AGW, the story about Drax power station was reported by Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph a few months ago. Drax was built to take advantage of the nearby coal reserves, now instead of mining coal and moving it a few miles by train, the Greens think it is better for the environment to chop down thousands of trees in the USA, transport them by train over a thousand miles, use more energy to grind them into a pulp, recombine the pulp into pellets, ship them 4000 miles across the Atlantic to Liverpool and then take them 200 miles by train, to Drax. Also, Drax has had, at great expense, to be converted to use this inefficient fuel.
The logic of this is totally flawed, because the proponents of this wonderful way of reducing CO2 emissions, conveniently forget about:
1) The energy used to cut down, pulverise and recombine the wood into pellets.
2) The energy used to transport the wood the additional 5000 miles.
3) The CO2 is only removed from the atmosphere in significant amounts when the trees have grown, saplings only remove tiny amounts.
4) The inefficiency of wood compared to coal in producing heat.
We have a worldwide energy policy governed by morons!

Brian H

I know how to save all that fuel the ships use! Just dump the logs in the Gulf Stream and let Nachure take its course!

Considering all the money spent on green energy scams and to fight global warming, it might just be cheaper and more efficient to burn $1 bills in a conventional power plant. We might get more energy for our dollar that way.

The real truth is that the Greens in the UK actually want Drax and all other ‘fossil and biomass’ generators shut down. They really do believe that they can all be replaced by wind or wave, and that everyone will be delighted to pay triple the price for power. What it is really all about is driving industry out of the UK and population reduction. Then we can all return to the Wordsworth and Shelley idyll of charming country-bumpkins weaving and spinning in little cottages, buccolic farmers using biomass to fertilise their “bio” foods all locally produced and grown.
Yeah, I know, dream on …

Patrick

I note not one mention of the type of fuel ocean going transports use in international waters. While there have been improvements the diesel is still very dirty in terms of CO2, NOx and sulphur emissions. This is total madness if emission reductions were the main driver, which of course, it isn’t. I would like to know how many politicians have a vested, financial, interest in this project given we know Cameron’s father in-law is heavily invested in “green energy” wind farm projects in the UK.

Steve
As can be seen in the Met office graph the temperature in the UK has been escalating rapidly over the last decade
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcet/
The need for power is…..wait a minute…..I was looking at the graph through my patented ’tiljander’ upside down glasses….It seems the temperature in the UK has been PLUMMETING over the last decade.
So what the Govt needs to do is to continue its policy of substantially increasing the cost of energy whilst reducing supply as that will….
Hmm. I’m getting confused here. Obviously the UK govt energy strategy is going to be perfectly logical and based on climate facts. So I must be misreading something, otherwise I would have to come to the conclusion the UK govt has gone mad and that obviously can’t be right.
Someone help me out here….
tonyb

Franksw

Twice the mass for the same energy, twice as many of Hansens “Death Trains” then

Totally off topic, but grab a copy of this…
The Age of Global Warming, by Rupert Darwall – ISBN 9780704372993, Quartet Books
It’s a fantastic walk through how we got to where we are.

me

The lunatics have enacted a coup at the asylum.

The Drax power station situation is too insane to think about. Due to policies of the three “main” political parties, the UK is going down the pan at a tremendous rate. The Industrial Revolution is being undone by a single generation of idiotic politicians, who have all come from the same mold. Or is that mould?

Bugs Man

“Misguided” is far too polite and gentle a word in this context. I salute the author’s supression of how I would personally describe the UK energy policy-makers’ mental processes. I refrain from stating my forthright views here as I wish to avoid being gagged by the ‘mods’!
The lunacy of converting Drax is a crime against the UK population, all in the name of fractionally reducing the <2% of global CO2 emissions emanating from the UK.
@Brian H – great idea. And all of the sea salt can be used on the roads to melt the snow & ice we were told we'd never see again.

Adam Gallon

Drax supplies 7% of our (UK’s) power, it’ll need double or treble the weight of wood, to produce the same power as it does with coal. So, double or treble the number of trains, factor in their CO2, add the transatlantic shipping, the transport from woods to ports, processing of the wood & I’ll bet the “savings” in CO2 is minimal.
The only reason this is being done, is the 100% subsidy that the owners will receive for the electricity produced and, of course, the fact that increasing “Green” taxes & levies will render coal-fired power stations uneconomical.

kalsel3294 says
“Perhaps the biggest tragedy is the nutrients that are being dragged out of the soil by the trees which must be replaced if the soil is to remain productive and not rendered infertile over time. The supply of essential nutrients is in my opinion going to become one of the greatest challenges for future generations as the world attempts to feed an ever increasing population”.
A very good point, not to mention the wildlife that calls these forests “home”.
It really does make me mad, that these idiots in trying to save the planet from a delusional threat are prepared to sacrifice whole ecosystems and waste more fossil fuels to promote the view that “something is being done”.
One piece of good news though, in this morning’s Daily Telegraph (front page) one of our senior ministers has been having talks with Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and as a result exploratory fracking will take place in SE England.
The Ghost of Big Jim Cooley is totally right about Ed Davey.Just read this drivel he has spouted
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/25/ed-davey-green-levy-energy

thingadonta

I think it might be a pretext to eventually outlawing burning wood, so that the coal plants go further out of business.

Andy Dawson

“Twice the mass for the same energy, twice as many of Hansens “Death Trains” then”
Worse – wood’s not only less energy dense (GJ/Kg), but less physically dense too (Kg/M3). So you won’t be able to get as many tonnes on a train…

Txomin

And the other shoe dropped.

CodeTech

We keep hearing “You can’t make this up”… but here’s a perfect example. If I was to make something like this up and put it in a book, nobody would believe it could ever happen. Publishers would tell me to get rid of the ludicrous plot twist. In the movie they’d replace the terrorists with “right wing extremists” (sorry, just saw the ridiculous “white house down”… grrr).
Personally I think Americans should rise up and protest the rape of their forests. And if that were to succeed they’d next have to go shopping in Canada, with a far more intelligent leader. Eventually Drax and its siblings will be denuding forests all across Europe and the Americas, after which somehow the logic-challenged will STILL be blaming the use of fossil fuels for the destruction of the forests.

Once again, many folks here are amazed that the political forces involved in schemes like this are somehow dumb, can’t do simple math, etc.
This is absolutely not the case…they are, as we say here in the states, crazy like a fox. They know, and frankly don’t care, exactly what they’re doing.
As always, follow the money.
The reason our president is now pushing the climate “control” portion of his agenda is not that he believes any of the statements he makes. It’s because he knows he can get OTHER people to believe it because they lack the will/knowledge to stand up to it. People will say “Well, at least he got THAT part right. At least he took care of the environment, so he was a good president.”
The leaders know exactly what they’re doing; extending government control, moving money to where they can use it to further extend their base of support.
Jim

A friend of mine is making a very good living indeed installing wood burning stoves. It’s clear that many of his clients are greenies who have no concern about this practice. Apart from the Kantian thought “where’s all the wood going to come from if everyone did this?”, the justification appears to be as stated above – “as biofuel plants grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned”. If that argument turns out to be false, I’d imagine we’d have a lot of egg on a lot of green faces. Or are they shameless?

Clive Best

DRAX – Druid Reasoning Applied to eXcess !

David A

“You can’t fix stupid” We better figure out how as things are not going well. The more nature debunks the warmist panic scenarios, the more they get policy through. (Case in point, the EPA and the current POTUS, doubling down on stupid) It will not end well.

Something is not completely right here: if one uses wood, be it for making paper or for power generation, it is in principle carbon neutral. Every bit of carbon is extracted from the atmosphere and by burning returned to the atmosphere. If the cut wood is immediately replaced by new tree plantations, as is already done for paper manufacturing, it remains carbon neutral for generations, where a mature forest is only a small sink for CO2, compared to a young growing forest.
The main problem of course in this case is the transport of enormous amounts of wood. In general wood for burning is chipped and compressed (and dried?), which makes its burning value and volume already a lot better for transport. The general rule of tumb in near all cases of energy use is that the pre-combustion energy losses for extraction, refining and transport are around 7% of the total energy use. That is the case for oil, gas, coal and nuclear. I suppose that it isn’t worse for wood.
Nevertheless, it is simply madness to use wood for power generation if you have a coal mine next door that can deliver the necessary energy for halve the price of wood. The taxpayers and electricity users will pay the difference…

ANTHONY HOLMES

Well , I think its safe to say that our Drax plant is going to solve the big problem of USA forest fires we keep seeing on TV . No forests – no fires !

Gerry, England

Surely this is what the Watermelons (marxist environmentalists) want – the western world regressing to a fuel we gave up for coal centuries ago? And domestically I am thinking of joining in by fitting wood burning stoves and switching to either wood, shredded paper briquettes or nice cheap coal and cutting the use of gas-fired central heating.
As for UK power shortages – there won’t be any due to lack of generating capacity as there are large numbers of diesel generators ready to crank up and fill the gap. It’s called STOR and doesn’t appear in the National Grid’s energy document. It is in preparation for more wind generation when an instant generating resource is needed when the unreliable wind changes strength. What is more likely is a shortage of gas if the winter is long and cold. The NG document showed that we came very close last April to gas rationing before warmer weather reduced domestic demand.

Greg

“Drax Group plc will receive a subsidy of over £1 billion ($1.6 billion) per year for this green miracle.”
And as always the answer is ‘follow the money’. Just like the recent stupidity of locking the country into paying nuclear generated electricity at twice the market rate for the next two or three generations in UK. Giving EDF as astounding ten per cent PER YEAR return on thier investment every simgle year for the estimated 40 years life time of the plant (while the govt will assume the cost of any accidents, effectively paying the insurance bill for the project).
It does not matter whether it’s wood-chip of nukes, it’s the same story.
Now with that sort of money at stake , I’m sure we will see ex-ministers and prime ministers getting extremely well paid board positions in the relative industries once they are thrown out of office choose to spend more time with their families after the next election.

Jimbo

As a result, nations and utilities are not required to count their CO2 emissions from biomass combustion.

Is deforestation and burning of such wood carbon neutral? Answers on a postcard. The law of unintended consequences has kicked in!
Too funny. You can’t win with these people. Give them what they want and they rage. See the banner from DRAX protesting greens that reads “BiG BIOMASS”.
http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/drax-agm-targeted-over-biomass-conversion-plans/
In all the carbon neutral discussion have they considered the greening biosphere over the last several decades?

If the energy is declared “green” then it is not subject to the normal laws of economics or nature. Therefore, it is economical and less polluting, by definition. Utilities like Dominion have their green energy initiatives financially cushioned because they can get subsidies and pass on costs to the rate payers.
If you want to get into some of the real silliness for green energy look at the Renewable Energy Credit market or the fact that people and institutions buy “green” electricity at higher costs. If an individual is doing this, it is the individual’s money and he is free to spend it for anything he wants. What happens when a college elects to purchase green energy? Students get to pay tuition increases to support the feel-good policy. What if it is a public school? Then the taxpayers get soaked for feeling good and pay the administrative fees. I’m glad there are no real problems to waste money on.

H.R.

And ya’ll thought the Luddites were defeated years ago. Well, they just laid low until they could get elected.
Seriously, it’s all about the money. Does anyone have the nerve to tell me that the transport companies and pellet manufacturers were dead set against this or didn’t contribute to the election funds in hopes of receiving cushy contracts?

J. Swift

British government scientists are working on a scheme to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. The cucumber fueled ‘Gulliver’ power station is due to come online in 2020. No need to worry about power outages, we are in the hands of the brightest and the best.

dave ward

I’m not old enough to remember the great smogs in London, but as a result of that, sensible clean air laws has meant burning ordinary coal in domestic heaters is virtually a thing of the past, and seeing smoke rising from house chimneys is consequently also rare. Or or perhaps I should say WAS rare – the increasing number of woodburners means a return to visible pollution and smell. Great when you live in a suburban housing estate and are downwind of one of these damn things! Not only do they stink our house out (unless we keep all the windows and doors closed), but it’s something else to consider when hanging the washing out to dry. Due to the ever increasing cost of electricity we avoid using the tumbler dryer if at all possible, and let nature do the work. But that “Eco friendly” effort is rendered useless if the freshly washed linen and clothes comes in smelling of burnt wood.
Another law of unintended consequences…

Mike H

No amount of pointing out that global temperatures have flat-lined for ~17 years or that central England temperature record shows falling temperatures in the UK (link below) is going to change UK policy. I honestly thought when Chris Huhne; the criminal who was our energy secretary, went to jail that the UK government would find it difficult to find someone as delusional to replace him, I was wrong. Cameron excelled himself in finding Ed Davey who in the stupidity stakes makes Huhne look like a gifted amateur. This fool has planted even more windmills and in order to make them competitive is pushing up the price of other energy supply to levels that are not affordable. This lunatic has approved the building of a new nuclear plant by the French and Chinese and as an inducement to do so has guaranteed a price per MW of double what it is today.
These lunatics are killing people now to cure a problem that they think we may have in 100 years time. The thought that they can have any notion of what technology might be available in 100 years time is preposterous. If we have a severe winter people will die, mainly the old and young but they are to divorced from reality or the real world to care.
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcet/

Tom in Florida

What is the projected tipping point when consumption overpowers regrowth and replacement?

Chuck L

Ha, ha, Tony, what it means is that the UK’s energy policy led by the Mad as a March Hare Ed Davey is working! As The Gray Monk suggests, “then we can all return to the Wordsworth and Shelley idyll of charming country-bumpkins weaving and spinning in little cottages, bucolic farmers using biomass to fertilise their “bio” foods all locally produced and grown.” With the very pleasant weather of a possible new “The Little Ice Age” reducing crop yields and shortening the growing season, Sounds just perfect to me.
On a more serious note, when I despair at the Green Fascism and growing Central Control that pervade the USA where I live, I need only look to the UK and I feel better. UK, I hope the citizens of the UK can rise up and change the course of history in your beautiful country. Good luck! You (and we) will need it to stem the tide of state-sponsored totalitarianism and insanity that is overwhelming both our countries, in the name of the environment.

Kip Hansen

Wood and charcoal burning for power resulted in the almost total clear cutting and deforestation of New York State leaving only 200,000 acres out of 18.9 million acres uncut–or, in percentage, 99% clear cut.
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_old-growth_forests and http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/309.html ]
In other words, not a good idea.
Elsewhere, environmentalist complain of citizens heating their rural homes with wood stoves, objecting to the smoke as pollution.

neillusion

how to twist an arguement totally out of context – spin – a grain of truth – a lorryload of shite
But a 2011 opinion by the European Environment Agency pointed to a “serious error” in greenhouse gas accounting. The carbon neutral assumption does not account for CO2 that would be absorbed by the natural vegetation that grows on land not used for biofuel production. Substitution of wood for coal in electrical power plants is actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

R. de Haan

The Thorium Problem, must see video:

Dad went off the grid for heat in CT,USA, during the OPEC oil embargo of the 1970’s by purchasing a Vermont Castings wood stove. Since then, has never paid a dime for heat except to top off and test his back up oil furnace. His station wagon often came home loaded with logs he’d found roadside or obtained via five finger discount. If wood becomes the preferred asinine green solution, imagine the pricing plight of those who chose to be self-reliant but now are driven to dependency. “Free Wood” signs may become the aborted bastard child of this unholy scrum of climate “science” madness and politics. Perhaps it’s time to switch to coal?

R. de Haan

The Thorium Battery propelled car, one fuel stop every century
http://politicalblindspot.com/car-runs-1-million-miles-on-8-grams-of-thorium/
Or power your house with a shoe box sized battery. No joke.

Another Gareth

Steve Goreham wrote: “This irrational behavior is driven by the EPA, the US Department of Energy, the European Union, the California Air Resources Board, and other world organizations that assume that biomass fuel is “carbon neutral.” Biomass-fired plants receive carbon credits, tax exemptions, and subsidies from promoting governments.”
It is rarely one single issue that keeps projects like this alive. Global warming hysteria sustains many parallel policy paths that all happen to lead to similar conclusions. With regards to energy a simpler one is that some of our representatives and betters genuinely believe there are too many of us and we use too much energy. They rarely put it so bluntly as they would be voted out of office.
Biomass, carbon capture and other things are also solutions that are difficult to oppose politically as you can then be painted as a denier and someone who wants the planet to be ruined for future generations.
There will also be some politicians convinced that raising energy prices in this less than direct way is a means to spur technological development. Western economies will become more efficient and will lead the advancement of new sources of energy, more efficient processes, etc. It is a way to exploit market forces for political, industrial and social ends.

Robert Orme

Nothing wrong with a local sawmill burning its waste to generate power, but you have to wonder about the sanity of these bureaucrats as well as their arithematical skills. Where do these people come from?

R. de Haan

Burning our biosphere to generate electricity is total madness.
Only the fact that the EU apparatchiks have come of with a directive to operate coal power plants with a mix of 1/3 of coal and 2/3 of wood pallets imported from the swamp forests in Georgia USA is nothing less but the total bankruptcy of the environmental movement.
Next subject.

Pamela Gray

Oh. I see. I can’t burn wood in my own house, but the guv’mnt can. Okey dokey! Just as long as I continue to get my free phone, free health care, heat subsidies, transportation subsidies, free internet access, free spending money, and free food, I’ll vote the democratic ticket and cut off my nose to spite my face. Robby Kennedy would be so proud of how I am accepting money in exchange for my vote. So proud.
I project a long successive line of stupid voted into the White House. And it all started with something as simple as a free phone.

rogerknights

Didn’t PM Disraeli have something sarcastic to say about chips?
(I suggest that the UKIP or GWPF quote him re DRAX.)