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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.

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manomet biomass sustainability carbon policy study

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
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

biomass harvests and forest impacts
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
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
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?