The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the Maine Pellet Fuels Association, and the Northern Forest Center read an Aug. 13 column, Energy Matters – Is biomass a climate solution? in the Lewiston Sun Journal and Franklin Journal with dismay, and once again we find ourselves wondering why those who claim concern over climate change would focus their attention on questioning a proven and critical piece of any solution to that issue.

The writers of the editorial clearly conclude the answer to their question is a resounding “no” when in fact the clear answer is, “biomass is part of the climate solution,” and a critical part.

What is biomass? In layman’s terms it is largely wood waste or byproducts: sawdust from sawmills, wood chips from limbs and tops of trees harvested for lumber, and low-grade unhealthy trees harvested to allow healthier trees to grow in their place. As these byproducts decay, carbon is released into the atmosphere, but trees grow back and recapture carbon – something fossil fuels cannot do. And so, burning biomass for heat or energy – especially when it is used in place of a fossil fuel – is capturing value from this resource versus letting it decay for no gain at all.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), widely considered the world’s leading authority on climate science, has consistently confirmed the important role for forest products and bioenergy in combating climate change and carbon emissions. According to the IPCC, every pathway to keeping temperature increases under 1.5 degrees Celsius includes sustainable forestry and wood biomass.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union agrees, and the EU and the United Kingdom are vigorously pursuing biomass energy as part of their region’s climate solution.

The U.S. has been slow to follow suit, but recently Congress – with support from Maine’s Congressional Delegation – passed key portions of “The BTU Act” in the bipartisan Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This commonsense legislation finally provides Maine homeowners with the opportunity to install highly efficient modern wood heating appliances with the same federal tax credit (previously 30 percent, a federal income tax credit of 26 percent commences with systems purchased in 2021 and phases down to 22 percent in 2022 and 2023.) afforded to other renewable technologies such as solar, wind, fuel cells, and geothermal heating.

Maine – which is the most forested yet one of the most fossil fuel dependent states in the U.S. – has an abundance of low grade wood that is ideal for creating sustainable energy without depleting our forest resource. This energy market is also critical for proper management of forest health, allowing low-grade wood to be cost-effectively removed where needed to improve the overall health of the forest.

We feel it is worth noting that one of the authors of the Aug. 13 editorial works at the University of Maine at Farmington, which has a combined heat and power (CHP) wood chip boiler on its campus that was designed to reduce the campus fossil fuel needs by 390,000 gallons annually. Many other colleges, schools, institutions, and businesses have done the same, and with fossil fuel prices on the rise, the financial winds of the energy market are beginning to shift in favor of biomass once again.

Nearly two-thirds of Maine households use fuel oil as their primary energy source for home heating, a larger share than any other state. Hundreds of millions of dollars associated with this fuel leave Maine entirely each year. By contrast, wood energy systems provide important bulk demand for wood chips and pellets from Maine’s forests, opportunities for local heating equipment firms, employment for Maine loggers and truckers, and public examples of the workability—particularly cost savings—of modern wood heating. They also reduce carbon emissions by over 50% when substituted for fuel oil, propane, or natural gas. The factors described above give Maine a solid foundation on which to build the wood energy sector in the years to come to achieve our state climate goals and keep our energy dollars circulating in Maine.

Dana Doran is executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.

William Bell is the executive director of the Maine Pellet Fuels Association.

Rob Riley is president of the Northern Forest Center.

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