Manomet biomass sustainability carbon policy study
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Manomet Biomass Sustainability & Carbon Policy Study. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences Forest Guild Pinchot Institute for Conservation Biomass Energy Resource Center Independent Advisory Panel Presented by Thomas Walker 4 December 2009. Forests of Massachusetts.

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Manomet Biomass Sustainability & Carbon Policy Study

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Manomet Biomass Sustainability & Carbon Policy Study

Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences

Forest Guild

Pinchot Institute for Conservation

Biomass Energy Resource Center

Independent Advisory Panel

Presented by Thomas Walker

4 December 2009

Forests of Massachusetts

Planned Harvests Average Annual


Acres 25,000

Sawtimber 55 million board feet

Other Biomass 150,000 green tons

Source: MA forest cutting plans

Massachusetts Biomass ElectricExisting & Proposed

Biomass Harvests and Forest Impacts

Will permitting of proposed biomass plants lead to excessive, unsustainable harvesting that damages our forested ecosystems?


  • Past biomass analysis focused too heavily on biological availability -- measures of annual net forest growth -- economic availability is a better indicator of potential impacts.

  • This is a function of three factors:

    • prices that biomass facilities can pay

    • harvesting and collection costs, and

    • willingness of forest landowners to increase harvests in response to offered prices.

  • Using realistic measures of future wood harvests, it is possible to evaluate the potential ecosystem impacts.

    • Nutrient depletion appears to be the biggest concern to date for MA forests.

    • Biodiversity impacts may also be an issue.

  • Is it necessary to modify forest cutting practice regulations to prevent damage to forests?

Biomass and the Carbon Cycle

Will biomass energy development in MA lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions?


  • A legitimate and complicated question -- past assumptions that trees re-sequester carbon and therefore biomass is ‘carbon friendly’ are overly simplistic.

  • Different sources of forest biomass fall along a carbon continuum:

    • Biomass from land clearing and conversion clearly increases greenhouse gas emissions -- mining trees instead of coal.

    • Biomass from ‘closed loop’ plantations on land that wouldn’t otherwise be forested will reduce emissions.

  • Biomass from natural forests in MA falls somewhere between these extremes. Some factors influencing which end of the continuum it’s closer to include:

    • Age, volume and growth rates for harvested stands.

    • Type of material harvested -- slash left to decay vs. trees that would have continued growing.

    • Rate of re-growth of harvested stands, potentially a function of management practices.

  • Differences in these factors manifest themselves in the timing of the re-sequestration of the carbon.

  • Also important is a clear understanding of the ‘business as usual’ baseline against which biomass is compared -- continued carbon sequestration in un-harvested forests and assumptions about energy sources that biomass replaces and the relative efficiency of new bio-energy facilities.

Key Study Questions For the Manomet Team___________________________________________________

  • What are the economically available quantities of biomass in MA?

  • What are a representative set of future scenarios for biomass energy development -- large electric, CHP, thermal, other biomass-derived fuels -- given the estimated costs biomass supplies?

  • How would harvests under each of these scenarios affect the health of our forest ecosystems? Are additional state regulations needed to ensure the ecological sustainability of harvests?

  • What is the potential for changes in forest management to increase the rate of carbon storage or total stock of carbon stored in MA forests?

  • What are the net carbon implications of each of the future biomass energy development scenarios?

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