Exploring the industrial biomass industry (Full)

Dogwood Alliance Athens Campaign Launched in Wake of Georgia Wood Pellet Facilities Proposal 

BY Clint Owens

Part I. Dogwood Alliance

In late 2016 Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville, North Carolina-based environmental nonprofit, launched the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Campaign in Athens, Georgia.  This campaign seeks to prevent the destruction of Southern forests as a result of the industrial scale biomass industry and wood pellet production.

According to Allie Halbert, the Athens organizer for Our Forests Aren’t Fuel, three wood pellet facilities have been proposed in Madison, Jackson and Franklin counties.

Halbert said that in addition to damaging the local ecosystem, wood pellet manufacturing generates an airborne dust that can be linked to asthma, increases in heart attacks and strokes in the communities near these facilities.

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Lung cancer cases in Florida, where Enviva’s Green Circle Bio Energy is located.

Data from CDC, NCI and NAACCR powered by CDC WONDER

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According to Emily Zucchino, Community Network Manager for the Asheville office of Dogwood Alliance, many Southern communities are concerned about the impacts of industrial logging on Southern forests and want to move forward toward forest protection.

“Overall, what we’ve seen, from the science on this issue, from the community groups that we work with, is that the industrial scale biomass industry is bad for our forests, it’s bad for the climate and it’s bad for out communities,” Zucchino said.

Zucchino said that in addition to the health concerns of wood pellet manufacturing, these facilities can present numerous other challenges for Southern communities.

“The concerns that the people in these communities have, in addition to the health concerns, are often things like economics,” Zucchino said.

Installation of wood pellet manufacturing plants can impact the value of local real estate, potential tourism value and, according to Zucchino, exacerbate poor living conditions that are already present due to other industrial manufacturing.

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“The variety of ecosystems found in Southern forests provides the basis for the entire web of life that supports us.”

– Dogwood Alliance

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“It’s part of the overall narrative of industrial extractive industries locating in poor communities and communities of color, and I think that’s absolutely what we’ve seen with the wood pellet industry,” Zucchino said.

Halbert said that although many of the forests in Europe are highly protected, wooden biomass is still considered by policymakers as renewable bioenergy.

Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

Essentially what’s been going on is they passed a policy to increase the amount of renewable energy that they were using and decrease the amount of carbon emissions that they were putting out into the air,” Halbert said.

Much of the sourcing of wood from Southern forests is a result of European policy, and outsourcing for wood from the United States.  Zucchino said that now Southern forests are being targeted specifically for bottomland hardwoods, which until recently have remained an “untapped market.”

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Green Circle Bio Energy lies adjacent to Bush Hammock Bay, Water Bay and Reedy Creek Bay.

Bush Hammock Bay is in the Swamps category for Jackson County in the state of Florida. Bush Hammock Bay is displayed on the Alford USGS quad topo map.”

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“These are some of the most ecologically important ecosystems that we have here in our Southern forests, and while they’re not the only tree system being targeted by the wood pellet industry, they are being sourced from to create these wood pellets,” Zucchino said.

According to the Dogwood Alliance online campaign, in addition to providing a habitat for unique flora and fauna and “250 species of mammals, 600 species of birds and 350 species of reptiles and amphibians,” Southern forests consume carbon roughly equal to 75% of that which is produced by all cars on US roads.  Destroying these trees not only impacts the web of life but also limits our supply of breathable air.

According to Halbert, Our Forests Aren’t Fuel continues to fight against “false green energy” and to protect these unique ecosystems. In her role as Athens organizer she engages in things like collecting petition signatures and talking to different student groups and community groups, in order to spread the word to show county commissioners that wood pellet manufacturing is not an industry that groups like Dogwood Alliance want to see in the area.

“The job I’m doing here is really gathering that grassroots power, that grassroots action, talking to folks all around the Athens community about the industrial scale biomass industry in our community,” Halbert said.

Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

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Part 2: The Paper Campaign 

Listen 🎧 as we delve deeper into the Dogwood Alliance Paper Campaign and the efforts of the environmental nonprofit to ensure that paper and pulp production companies are operating as sustainably as possible.

Join us for the next episode in which we’ll take a deeper look into wood pellet manufacturing, and the economic and social impacts of industrial biomass facilities.

Narration/Reporting – Clint Owens, Sound Design / Score – Nikolas Geerken

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Part 3: Forestry and Timber Harvesting Practices 🎥🎞

Narration/Reporting – Clint Owens, Sound Design / Score – Nikolas Geerken

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In the wake of the proposal of three new wood pellet facilities in Georgia, many environmental activist groups, such as Dogwood Alliance, are fighting to keep the industrial biomass industry out of their communities.

Some forestry experts claim that allegations of non-sustainable practices in wood pellet production are vastly outweighed by the economic and environmental benefits of the industry.

According to Dr. Ben Jackson, a Professor of Timber Harvesting and Alternative Forest Products at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, there are some common misconceptions about “waste wood.” 

“The perception is that if you’re taking woody biomass from a site after a harvest, you’re taking all of that woody biomass on the site, and that’s not true,” Jackson said.

According to Jackson, most of the material that is left on the site is non-recoverable commercially.  It costs too much money to try to gather it up, and haul it to a manufacturing plant.  Additionally, soil, rocks and other sediment that is mixed in with the non-recoverable biomass can be devastating to machinery when trying to convert the biomass into a product that can be utilized commercially.

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“The fundamental concept of using wood as an energy source is much superior to using fossil fuel as an energy source.” 

Dr. Doug Aubrey, Assistant Professor, Forest Ecophysiology & Energy Ecology

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According to Dr. Joseph Conrad, an Assistant Professor of Forest Operations at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the term biomass is a generalization that can be applied to any living thing that is used to produce energy.

“When we refer to biomass energy, that could be several things as well.  Biomass energy could be taking wood, combusting it in a power plant to produce electricity.  There are several of those facilities in the Southeast, one in eastern North Carolina and another in Virginia,” Conrad said.

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Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

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Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo Collection/Clint Owens

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Data visualization by Clint Owens, July 2, 2017.

Data provided by U.S. census bureau and Southern Environmental Law Center

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