Clarifying the biomass issue

Published: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 11:46 p.m.
The Sun's Dec. 26 article about power and pollution included some misunderstandings regarding the local biomass option. Our climate and geography are ideal for biomass.
In a "what- if" scenario with Gainesville Regional Utilities, several biomass producers clearly stated that GRU's biomass needs for producing 30 to 40 megawatts could easily be met from identifiable supplies within a 25-mile radius. Since woody biomass is typically transported 50 miles or more, extending the reach could have identified many more tons of biomass from existing sources.
Should dedicated plantations linking urban waste, such as biosolids and wastewaters, with production systems be needed, even more biomass would be possible. Small-diameter trees, which are now in abundance in plantations and natural stands because of the massive reduction in the pulpwood market, could provide additional biomass. Harvesting these trees would not only provide a biomass supply but improve forest health.
We believe more than 30 megawatts could be fueled from biomass. Nobody has suggested that GRU purchase plantations, nor did they hint that GRU would have to "get involved in wood harvesting, a field it has no experience in." There are an abundance of wood production contractors that are equipped, capable and willing to harvest any amount GRU would want.
And finally, we take exception to the "bogeyman" of invasive species being used to frighten people away from the biomass option. To our knowledge, no invasive woody species were ever discussed. Our native cottonwood and two noninvasive exotic eucalyptus species produce high yields in biomass plantations. Let's not equate exotics with invasives.
We should concentrate on real problems with the biomass option, such as economically affordable versus physically available biomass, long-term contracts, public acceptance and environmental sustainability - all topics amenable to research and potentially solvable. Such investigations could provide useful information as we develop our local renewable energy options!
Wayne H. Smith, Donald L. Rockwood, Gainesville

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