Biomass power isn’t truly “renewable” if it depends on BCAP subsidies

The recent vote in the House Appropriations Committee to defund the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) has predictably been met with wails and rending of garments by the biomass industry. One part of the program, which pays biomass producers about $25 per green ton to deliver fuel, was characterized as “worthless” by Collin Peterson (D-Minn), the former chair of the House Agriculture committee and an early supporter of BCAP.
No wonder. Federal funding for collection and delivery of biomass for fuel totaled nearly $243 million for FY 2009/2010 (our favorite was the $49 million spent on “bark”.  We’ve wondered – what would be the heating value of just burning the dollar bills directly?). The program caused distortions in markets that even forest products industry groups had to admit were a problem. And much of that that money simply served to accelerate the pumping of forest carbon and other pollutants into the air. Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of the Biomass Power Association (BPA), calls BCAP a “bargain” for the nation, but admits there’s a “widespread network of Americans who rely on BCAP”. Someone needs to ask the BPA: why is a polluting industry that is so dependent on fuel delivery subsidies a bargain… and don’t we already have that “bargain” with the oil industry?
The dependency of the biomass industry on taxpayer-funded programs like BCAP at the state and federal levels demonstrates that biomass energy isn’t even close to being a truly renewable energy source like wind and solar. Once wind and solar infrastructure is in place, the “fuel” is delivered free – forever. Biomass is the only so-called renewable energy source that requires ongoing effort to harvest and supply the fuel, not to mention huge expenditures of fossil fuels – between one and two gallons per ton of wood, for biomass processing and delivery.  
The Senate should finish BCAP off for good and focus on initiatives that get truly clean, renewable power built in a hurry, like Senator Sanders’ (D-VT) “Ten Million Solar Roofs” bill. That’s a technology that really is a bargain for the nation – providing heat and power and putting energy dollars back in ratepayers’ pockets, with no subsidies fpr fuel delivery needed.
(picture credit Chris Matera. Mass Forest Watch; photo taken at White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire)

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