Biomass

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Governor Chris Sununu was with business leaders and state legislators in Epping Friday, talking about lowering energy costs in the state.

Sununu spoke at Sig Sauer's firearms training range. He says retaining big, industrial employers like Sig Sauer means keeping energy costs down.

"These jobs could be easily lost if we're not putting a lot of these manufacturers first, their needs first, understanding what's important to them to create our thriving economy,” he says.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Hampshire’s timber sector is rallying around a plan to sustain the biomass industry that Governor Chris Sununu vetoed last month.

They filled a warehouse in Bristol Thursday night for a strategy session with legislators on overturning that veto and passing the bill – which would require utilities to buy more woodchip-fired biomass energy.

In rejecting the bill, Sununu argued it would cost ratepayers too much. But loggers, landowners and suppliers say the benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Anderson/SPNHF

New Hampshire loggers want the legislature to overturn Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill to bolster the biomass industry.

They will make their case Thursday night at a closed meeting in Bridgewater.

New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association

Governor Chris Sununu is standing by his veto of a bill to boost the biomass industry – even as more of the wood-burning plants say they may shut down as a result.

A wood buyer for Bridgewater Biomass confirmed Tuesday that the plant took the veto as a signal about the industry's future, and stopped buying new wood in late June.

The Pinetree Power plants in Tamworth and Bethlehem did the same, according to spokeswoman Carol Churchill of their parent company, ENGIE North America.

Asea / Flikr Creative Commons

Governor Sununu signed a bill on Wednesday that would extend the subsidy for the Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin by three years.

Under a 2011 agreement, Eversource pays Burgess at above-market prices. That's capped at 100 million dollars, but that could be reached sooner than anticipated.

So, with this new bill, the subsidy will continue for three years after hitting the cap. 

Those who opposed this bill argued that those above-market prices would be passed on to customers.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Governor Chris Sununu is reportedly set to veto at least one bill that would subsidize alternative forms of energy.

Sununu plans to veto one or two of the high-profile energy bills legislators passed this session, according to New Hampshire Journal.

Google Maps screenshot

A wood-burning power plant in Springfield could face more than $125,000 in federal fines after a worker died on the job last November.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that a 23-year-old plant employee died after being pulled into a conveyor.

Inspectors found a lack of safety guarding on that conveyor and other machinery. And they say employees weren’t trained to keep equipment from accidentally turning on.

In a statement, officials say the worker’s death was a tragedy the plant’s owner could have prevented.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Rising costs and limited markets are putting pressure on the recycling business in New Hampshire and the rest of the region.

At the Northeast Resource Recovery Association's conference in Manchester this week, China is high on the list of worries.

EPA Twitter

The Environmental Protection Agency says it will treat wood fuels from managed forests as carbon-neutral. It could give New Hampshire's timber industry some long-term certainty.

Charlie Niebling has worked around the Granite State's forest products industry for decades. He says scientists have never agreed on if biomass fuels, like wood chips, offset more carbon than they produce. 

 

Niebling thinks biomass can have a net carbon benefit if it's harvested from a well-managed forest and burned efficiently. 

 

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A pre-planned outage at Berlin's wood-burning power plant ends Saturday night.

The 75-megawatt Burgess Biomass Plant has been down for routine maintenance since last weekend.

Plant manager David Walker says they've been doing this twice a year since 2016.

"Biomass plants will typically schedule this time of year, because of what they call the spring and the fall mud season, so the loggers aren't allowed to get into the woods, or if the roads are posted and whatnot,” he says.

EPA on Twitter

During his New Hampshire visit Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt signaled plans for new federal energy policies that could bolster a struggling regional industry – biomass.

In a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, Pruitt suggests the agency plans to add biomass, including wood and other plant-based fuels, to its “‘all of the above’ energy portfolio.” (Read the full letter below.)

PSNH

Members of the timber industry were in the state capitol today, arguing for the passage of a bill that would support the state’s struggling biomass industry.

Keith Shields; NHPR

Many New Hampshire households use wood pellet stoves for heat, but now towns, schools, and businesses are turning to biomass to generate heat and electricity. But questions abound about the sustainability, and carbon output, of this alternative energy source.  


Michael Bartoszek, the original developer of the Berlin biomass plant, has agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission $3 million to settle charges he violated regulations, including misleading investors about the prospects and financial condition of his company, Laidlaw Energy Group.

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New Hampshire's largest utility says its biomass project in Portsmouth has received more than 151,000 deliveries of wood chips from local foresters to support 150 to 200 jobs as it gets ready to enter its 10th year of operation.

When Eversource's Northern Wood Power unit became operational in December 2006, it permanently replaced a 50-megawatt coal-burning boiler with a system that uses clean wood chips for fuel.

It generates enough electricity to power approximately 50,000 New Hampshire homes and reduces air emissions.

https://flic.kr/p/muU7qZ

The Obama Administration's top environmental regulator, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, was in New Hampshire today promoting the use of wood as a fuel. McCarthy took a tour of sawmill in Middleton that burns leftover wood scraps to generate electricity and to heat its facility.  

EPA Head To Highlight Biomass In New Hampshire Visit

Nov 16, 2015
Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr/CC - http://ow.ly/UFV42

  The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in New Hampshire today promoting biomass energy. 

Woodstove 2006
Gord McKenna / Flickr Creative Commons

Starting Thursday residents of Cheshire County can turn in old, inefficient woodstoves for a voucher towards a new cleaner-burning stove.

The vouchers are worth $1,000 towards an EPA certified woodstove, $1,500 towards a pellet or gas stove, or $4,000 towards a new outdoor wood boiler. In all $425,000 worth of vouchers will be given out.

Woodstoves built before 1988 are a lot less efficient and put out a lot more pollution than modern stoves, and since they are essentially big chunks of iron they last a long time.

D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

The number of homes in New Hampshire using wood for heat has more than doubled over the last decade, from 3.8 percent in 2005 to 8.6 percent in 2013.

Much of that increase comes from wood pellets. Pellets have advantages over cord-wood – they are less work and burn more cleanly – and are cheaper than fuel oil or propane.

But the fuel’s rapid growth has meant the pellet industry has earned a few black-eyes from the occasional shortage, and manufacturers and retailers are struggling to figure out how to smooth out their supply chain.

About 51 percent of the wood purchased for the new Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin during its first two months of operation came from New Hampshire, according to a new “sustainability” report filed with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

Thirty-five percent came from Maine.

Five percent from Vermont.

Eight percent from Massachusetts.

And "one truck load" came from Canada.

Pellergy / Flickr CC

Thanks to a $250,000 dollar federal grant a new group is working to promote the burning of wood for heating in high-efficiency boilers in the Granite state

The New Hampshire Wood Energy Council consists of nearly fifty biomass supporters from state agencies, non-profit organizations, and industry representatives. Those representatives will serve as ambassadors for using wood-pellet and wood-chip boilers.

The Search Is On: Colder Winter, Fewer Wood Pellets

Feb 25, 2014
D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

Those big stacks of wood pellets typically seen each fall in the parking lots of big box stores aren’t so easy to find right now. And, that’s posing a challenge for people like Andy Langlois of Berlin.

He heats with pellets and has become a hunter-gatherer.

“I had to start calling around as well as just stopping by places just to see if anybody has them and then how many they have,” he said.

Around the state stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot are often coming up short, spokeswomen for the companies acknowledged.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

  A new EPA Clean Air standard for wood stoves is set to take effect next year.

It has been 25 years since the EPA wrote the first woodstove regulations. Since the rules were last refreshed, the health hazards from the unburned particles in wood smoke have been researched and quantified. But with the new rules now pending, manufacturers are saying that prices for new stoves will rise, and worry that will result in more people sticking with dirty old stoves.

Cheap, But Dirty

Around the state more institutions, towns and businesses are turning away from oil in favor of heating with wood, viewing it as a renewable resource that helps the region’s economy, lowers the carbon footprint and apparently saves money.

There’s a good example in the basement of the main building at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem.

The old is a huge, black, gray and rust-fringed H.B. Smith boiler that once feasted on heating oil.

A few feet away are three modern-looking, green and white pellet boilers.

Federal officials say six companies building a biomass plant in Berlin have put workers at risk by not following safety regulations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration proposes fining the companies about $280,000 for thirty-one “willful, serious and repeat violations of workplace safety standards.”

“These hazards included potential cave-ins, falls, scaffold collapse, crushing, exposure to lead and electrocution hazards,” said OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said there were no serious injuries or deaths.

New research raises new questions about how green burning wood really is, given the carbon impacts of both cutting and burning trees for energy.  But biomass supporters say carbon calculations are complicated…taking into account the lifecycle of trees, the sustainable practices of foresters today…and although not perfect, is far better than fossil fuels.

Guests

Andrew Friedland - the Richard and Jane Pearl Professor in Environmental Studies in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College: He researches carbon cycling in forests.

Land Rover Our Planet / Alex E. Proimos / Flickr Creative Commons

New Hampshire is one of only three states with a split legislature: Republicans control the Senate, Democrats the House of Representatives. The two bodies have shown an ability to work together on some issues this session, including business tax credits and limits on lead fishing tackle.

But with the end of the legislative year fast approaching, inter-chamber gamesmanship is on the rise. It can start simple enough. A routine legislative procedure on the House floor.

iStock Photo

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk: What is “biomass” and why is it controversial as a potential source of energy?-- Edward White, New Bedford, MA

Biomass is plant matter that is burned as a source of energy. Fallen or cut wood that is burned for heat is one primary form of biomass, but another includes plant or animal matter that is converted into biofuels.

Flkr Creative Commons / PSNH

Public Service of New Hampshire has asked for a change in how much it charges consumers for electricity.

PSNH asked the Public Utilities Commission for a ten percent decrease in the price it charges for electricity. But any savings consumers might see would be eaten up by a simultaneous increase in the Stranded Cost Recovery charge.

Sam Evans-Brown

 

The New Hampshire legislature is considering a bill that would expand the state’s renewable portfolio standards. That means more money to subsidize renewable energy.

Supporters say the measure is a real boost to the state’s wood industries, but critics doubt whether the new subsidies are worth the price.

There’s a little something for everyone in the new Renewable Portfolio Standards.

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