Facts vs. Myths

The information below was provided by a document prepared by  our friends at EcoLaw.biz.

FACT: Burning biomass for energy is “dirtier” than burning coal. Burning biomass emits large amounts of air pollution, and endangers human health.

  • Incredibly, biomass burning, is dirtier than burning coal. Per unit of power generated, burning wood emits 1.25-3.0 times as much carbon CO2 (the most important greenhouse gas) as coal.
  • Biomass burning emits as much PM [particulate matter] as coal, a pollutant associated with asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Wood or trash burning biomass incinerators typically increase ground level ozone. Burning biomass produces hundreds of tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), two ingredients of the ground-level ozone that causes asthma in children and exacerbates other pulmonary and cardiac disease problems.
  • Biomass energy is woefully inefficient, averaging only 26% efficiency. Thus, 76% of the energy in the wood burned is wasted. However, 100% of the wood burned generates pollution.

FACT: Biomass harvesting over-exploits forests and degrades their vital ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere

  • A single 50-megawatt biomass plant burns about 650,000 tons of trees a year, over a ton of wood a minute.1
  • Biomass plants don’t just burn forestry “waste” (tops and branches) – they burn whole trees.
  • Mature trees sequester more carbon than newly planted trees, even though young trees appear to grow faster.
  • Cutting and burning a tree is a “double whammy” for the environment. The tree is no longer taking CO2 out of the atmosphere but burning the wood produces an acute spike in CO2 levels.

FACT: Burning biomass to generate electricity is not carbon neutral. Under current or proposed laws it will dramatically increase greenhouse gases.

  • CO2 is CO2. Every molecule has a negative effect regardless of the source, whether it is from a tailpipe or a smokestack.
  • So called “biogenic” carbon in the atmosphere causes just as much harm as every other type of CO2. The amount of carbon in the biosphere is fixed. It is the percentage in the atmosphere in the next 20-30 years that will determine what happens to the world climate. Human burning of biomass is not part of the “normal” carbon cycle.
  • We can’t grow the trees fast enough. The assumption used to be that the trees could grow back fast enough that burning would not cause a significant rise in atmospheric CO2 levels. That is not true. In April, 2009 the EPA reversed itself and invalidated that concept by stating that:
  • “…for a given amount of CO2 released today, … 30 percent will be removed over a few centuries, and the remaining 20 percent will only slowly decay over time such that it will take many thousands of years to remove from the atmosphere.” (Federal Register, Vol 74, p 18899, 4/24/2009.)
  • Maintaining the exemption for CO2 under the protocol [Kyoto] wrongly treats all biomass sources as carbon neutral, even if the source involves clearing forests for electricity. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in emissions despite causing large carbon emissions. Replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy does not by itself reduce carbon emissions. (Searchinger, et.al., Science 326: 527, 2009.)

FACT: Greenhouse gas emissions from biomass incinerators are significant and will undermine initial efforts to cut US greenhouse gas emissions.

  • If the renewable energy targets for 2020 are met then the burning of wood and trash will cause the emissions of 700,000,000 tons of CO2 each year. (EIA)
  • This CO2 won’t be “counted” because biomass is considered a “renewable energy source” by all the Congressional climate bills. This means the CO2 is ignored by the law and is not regulated.
  • This “loophole” effectively reduces the CO2 emissions reductions in 2020 from 17% to 11%. This is a serous setback in efforts to control climate change before irreversible thresholds or biological tipping points are breached. (David Hawkins of NRDC before Senate Committee on the Environment July 7, 2009.)

Download the entire document with data sources, written by EcoLaw


  1. They want to put one of these filthy plants in Shelton Washington.

    • You are not alone, there are hundreds of these incinerators in the pipeline across our country. See http://energyjustice.net/map.

  2. true, they are trying this in Shelton and we desperately need help stopping this…please help. any advice or strategies that were successful in FLA would be great for us suffering here in WA

  3. Where can I find some technical details on the proposed “incinerator” project? Much of the opposition seems poorly informed and expecting environmentalists such as myself to have a knee-jerk reaction against this project without providing a more detailed description of the technology proposed.

    Thank you,
    Mark E. Ludlow, P.E.

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