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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Carbon Neutrality of Biomass Energy
By Eric Muench


March 27, 2012

This is a response to Paul Olson's criticism of the Southeast Integrated Resource Plan, in which he says that conversion to biomass energy would be harmful because, among other claims, it adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and is therefore not carbon-neutral . That is a misleading statement.

The recent rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is due to our recent history of massive fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) burning. The so-called carbon neutrality of alternative energy production is a matter of replacing fossil fuels. No energy alternative is one hundred percent carbon neutral. Wind, hydro, wave, tidal, nuclear, geothermal or heat pump, as well as biomass, require transportation and construction activity that uses fossil fuel. Their carbon-neutrality stems from the ability to provide energy into the indefinite future without burning massive amounts of fossil fuels to do it.

Carbon dioxide released by burning biomass is carbon dioxide that was taken from the air as the trees grew, and the trees that replace the harvested biomass will grow by taking in carbon dioxide again. Trees not harvested will eventually die and be decomposed by insects, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms which will release all the carbon dioxide that burning would. This cycling process has been going on for half a billion years, long before humans had a hand in it, and will continue with or without us.

Any energy alternatives are beneficial if they result in cheap and clean energy for the many southeast communities that currently face exorbitant diesel generation cost. Carbon neutral alternatives, including biomass, should certainly be part of the mix wherever they can be economically used.

Eric Muench
Ketchikan, AK

About: "I am a retired forester and long time Ketchikan resident interested in honest resource use discussion."

Received March 23, 2012 - Published March 27, 2012

Related Viewpoint:

letter Alaska Energy Authority's Energy Resource Plan By Paul Olson


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