Signup for our emails

   Please leave this field empty


WWP Biomass Arguments Are Flawed

A recent guest editorial by David Cohen, president of Western Water and Power (WWP), is deceptive and a disservice to the community

The recent guest editorial by David Cohen, president of Western Water and Power (WWP), is deceptive and a disservice to the community (Guest View, Aug. 9).

The author starts out saying that he prefers "reasonable debate" to personal attacks and then goes on to attack WildEarth Guardians for all the bad things they do like restoring wild rivers and native wildlife, replanting abused riparian areas and trying to preserve our forests from misguided exploitation.

(Cohen) points to what he calls four main erroneous claims by WildEarth Guardians. Let us look at each of these issues and let you, the reader, decide for yourself.

Point 1: The author says the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) asserts that biomass belongs to a list of clean energy sources. I seriously doubt that the UCS would consider WWP's emission of 700 tons a year of pollution a clean energy source. The author actually implies that he spoke to these "200,000 scientists and concerned citizens," saying that "they entirely reject all four of WildEarth Guardians' claims." I'd like to see the written evidence.

Biomass can be relatively clean if the latest advances in technology are used. WWP's Estancia biomass, on the other hand, would emit over 700 tons of pollutants including 230 tons of nitrous oxides (NOx) and 220 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) using very basic emission control technology.

In California, the Colmac biomass plant uses commercially available technology which would reduce the Estancia NOx emissions by 50 percent and the carbon monoxide by 98 percent. Indeed, new advances in technology ( can now reduce overall emissions from biomass by 95 percent, bringing the 700 tons down to less than 40 tons!

WWP knows this but refuses to talk about it because they know that implementing better pollution controls will cut into their bottom line and scare investors away.

The article then goes on to quote from the UCS article, saying that biomass currently produces 15 times more energy in the U.S. than solar and wind. This is likely true, but also true is the fact that there has not been the political will in the U.S. to seriously encourage the development of solar and wind as there has been for biomass over the past half century. It's a lot easier to stoke up the fire and put in the fuel since we already designed the furnaces for coal. And our air quality has suffered for it.

Point 2: The article implies that WildEarth Guardians has asserted that biomass production "necessitated clear cutting." This is an interesting comment because WWP itself has said that it will need to clear-cut the piņon and juniper on state lands south of Mountainair as well as on private ranches if is to be profitable. In a recent Albuquerque Journal piece, Jack Maddox, VP of WWP, said "in some areas, trees will be completely cleared, providing more biomass per acre."

I'm sure WildEarth Guardians is opposed to any type of clear cutting, as we all should be, but the author's use of the Union of Concerned Scientists to support a false accusation and then talk about "our beloved national forest" is laughable were it not such a serious issue.

WWP has yet to explain to anyone where they plan to get the 55 tons an hour of biomass to fuel the plant.

Does anyone seriously believe that the plant can acquire 480,000 tons a year for 30 years from forest thinnings in New Mexico? Two biomass plants in Northern California (Shasta) have recently closed because there wasn't enough fuelwood available anymore because of environmental concerns. And they have a lot more forests than we have.

Could it be that when forest biomass is no longer available, the plant will claim economic hardship and convert to natural gas since there is a pipeline nearby? Or maybe they will bring a rail spur up from Willard and ask to burn urban waste- a lot more profitable since they'd get $150 a ton to take the stuff. You think I'm kidding?

Point 3: The article asserts that WildEarth Guardians claims that "biomass is not a renewable energy source." Bryan Bird, program director at WildEarth Guardians, recently wrote that "whether forest biomass is renewable is equally subjective ... power plants need fuel now and will eventually outstrip excess woody growth ... we'll be mining forests for electricity as we do coal."

We know the Estancia plant will require 55 tons of woody biomass per hour to operate. USDA Forest Inventory data shows that the forests in the Manzano Mountains produce two-thirds of a ton of available "renewable" growth per acre. If you do the math that means Estancia biomass will need 730,000 acres or 1,140 square miles a year to operate if they use just the renewable biomass. The Sandias, Manzanos and Gallinas combined only have 337,000 acres. The only way these forests can be used is to harvest well in excess of the renewable rate, which is not sustainable.

Another main problem is when you remove forest biomass, you remove the same material the forest uses to produce the soil it needs to nourish itself.

Point 4: The article finally says that biomass in general will reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to fossil fuels. What the article failed to note was the fact that the proposed Estancia plant will emit 220 tons of carbon monoxide, which immediately turns into carbon dioxide when it hits the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gases. Commercially available carbon emission control equipment currently used in California could easily reduce these emissions to four tons per year, a 98 percent reduction if WWP chose to use them. They chose not to.

WWP needs to answer some basic questions if they are to get the respect and support of the local community. Questions like: Where are they going to get all the wood to fuel the plant and how will they extract it from the forests? How will water requirements affect our depleting aquifer? How will all these activities affect local communities and wildlife? What will happen to all the waste products from the plant? And why won't WWP use the best available control technology for air pollution control?

The list goes on.

If we want to develop a clear idea of the cumulative impacts from the proposed Estancia plant, WWP needs to sit down with state representatives and the local community and field comments in an open and honest debate and make this a truly collaborative effort. Simply criticizing local citizens who are looking for answers and WildEarth Guardians for doing its job doesn't help the issue.

For more information see

Bud Latven is a resident of Tajique who has been heavily involved in forest health issues in the East Mountains.

Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal - Reprinted with permission


All active news articles