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Big Steaming Pile of Biomass

Why the latest “green” energy fad is full of hot air & subsidies, lots and lots of subsidies

The City of Estevan announced a 45-megawatt straw-and-waste, wood-fuelled biomass facility (pre-development phase) in the Estevan. This facility will result in a theoretical reduction of 58,500 tonnes of CO2. Despite being touted as the next, best form of “green” energy biomass energy, which involves the burning of organic materials such as wood, crop residues, and waste products, has some potentially serious drawbacks as an energy source. Sustainability and government subsidies: By almost all accounts, the biomass industry is not financially sustainable without massive government subsidies. Recently, the European Union, previously supported the industry with massive subsidies but has recently decided to pull back its support for biomass. The Saskatchewan government, on the other hand, has implemented a variety of initiatives to support the development of the biomass energy industry in the province, including the Biomass Energy Support Program, which provides financial assistance for biomass energy projects ($500,000.) How long that support will last and the long-term viability of biomass energy remain important questions. Jobs & Economy: Biomass facilities often require fewer workers and pay lower wages. Jobs in the coal industry have historically provided higher wages and more comprehensive benefits than jobs in the biomass industry, resulting in stronger spin-off effects for the local economy. Feedstock availability and logistics: The availability and logistics of biomass feedstocks are key factors that can impact the viability of biomass energy projects. The IBSS&C project found that factors such as feedstock quality, transportation costs, and storage requirements can significantly affect the cost and feasibility of producing energy from biomass. Therefore, developing efficient and cost-effective logistics systems for biomass feedstocks is critical for the success of biomass energy projects. The amount of biomass required to generate 45 MW of power depends on a variety of factors, including the type of biomass feedstock, the efficiency of the power generation technology, and the operating conditions of the power plant. However, in general, it is estimated that a biomass power plant with a capacity of 45 MW would require around 1,000 to 1,500 tons of biomass per day. This estimate is based on the assumption that the biomass feedstock has a heating value of around 7,000 to 8,000 BTUs per pound, and that the power generation technology has an efficiency of around 25 to 30%. However, it is important to note that these estimates are highly dependent on the specific conditions of the biomass power plant and may vary significantly based on the feedstock, technology, and other factors. Greenhouse gas emissions: Although biomass energy is considered a renewable source of energy, it still produces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. When organic materials such as wood, crop residues, and waste products are burned, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While some proponents of biomass energy argue that this carbon dioxide is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by plants during photosynthesis, the process is not always carbon-neutral. Air pollution: Burning biomass for energy can also produce harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. These pollutants can contribute to respiratory problems, heart disease, and other health issues, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Additionally, the production and transport of biomass fuel can also generate air pollution. Land use: Producing biomass for energy often requires significant amounts of land, which can lead to deforestation and the loss of wildlife habitat. If the biomass is not produced sustainably, it can lead to soil erosion, reduced water quality, and other negative impacts on the environment. Water use: Biomass energy production can also be water-intensive, requiring large amounts of water for irrigation and processing. This can exacerbate water scarcity and competition for resources, particularly in areas where water is already in short supply. Resource depletion: Depending on the source of the biomass, its production can lead to resource depletion and unsustainable practices. For example, if forests are cleared for biomass production, it can lead to soil erosion, reduced water quality, and the loss of biodiversity. Health impacts: Burning biomass for energy can also have negative health impacts, particularly for those who live near biomass facilities or are involved in biomass production. In addition to the air pollution generated by biomass combustion, the handling and processing of biomass can also potentially lead to exposure to harmful chemicals and dust. Overall, while the proposed biomass facility could, in theory (depending on one’s definition) provide a renewable source of “green” base-load energy (45 MW presumably requiring even more subsidies / “investments” from the city) in addition to its negative impacts on the environment, public health, natural resources and lack of good paying jobs, the basic economics just don’t make sense and this must be carefully considered and addressed. As an alternative, we have safe, clean, reliable and affordable Estevan coal that has been used for over a hundred years to power the province. With modern technologies and best practices, the environmental impacts of coal can be minimized. Utilizing our world leading, made-in-Saskatchewan carbon capture and storage (CCS) / carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology pioneered at Boundary Dam, Estevan has a proven source of energy to power the province’s future energy needs. Saskatchewan Coal Transition Centre

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