Climate-friendly electricity solutions have been debated seemingly since the dawn of time (or at least, the dawn of electricity). Those who argue for the issue say that trees are the most sustainable resource we have, while those who argue against it say that it’s not that simple, and that if it’s managed poorly, woody biomass may be even worse for the environment than coal.
With the election of President Trump, though, there’s a whole other wrench thrown into the conversation because of the president’s views on climate change. If he doesn’t see a need for alternative fuel sources, then the entire debate becomes unnecessary and biomass becomes irrelevant. After all, if coal and gas are abundant and cheap, then what’s the point of bothering with wood?
The question now is what the future holds for biomass under a Trump administration. Read on.
Trump vs. Obama
Industry executives had been hopeful that Trump would bring the issue of woody biomass to rest, either through action or by indifference. Obama dealt with this question for most of his time in office, and his administration never really came to a firm conclusion. The hope of resolution seems well founded, considering that trees soak up carbon dioxide and then release it back into the air once burned, creating a perfect energy cycle with no excess emissions.
But many scientists have emphasized the amount of time it takes to grow enough trees to absorb all that carbon (decades or even centuries), and while we wait for those trees to grow, the wood we’re burning releases carbon at a 50% higher rate than coal to produce the same amount of power.
Researchers will admit that this method could be beneficial with careful monitoring and planning, but all of these outcomes are far from certain, especially now that Trump is in charge.
Trump’s Actions So Far
So far, the president’s sole action on this issue has been to move toward killing the Clean Power Plan—an initiative designed to reduce greenhouse gases that would have probably benefitted the woody biomass power industry. The plan’s death has damaged the industry’s prospects, and with the lack of federal mandates that encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases that come from power plants, there isn’t really any motivation for utilities to look for alternatives to coal and other fossil fuels.
Still, though, opponents of woody biomass are keeping a close watch on Congress. Some are convinced that a push for biomass support is probably going to move outside of the legislature and into appropriations, joining many other energy interests that are lobbying for windfalls and tax credits to improve their futures.
With all this uncertainty, it’ll be important to keep one ear to the ground and stay on top of any developments in the biomass industry.
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