To the editor:
In Massachusetts, 80 percent of all households heat with fossil fuels (natural gas or oil). Legislation was enacted that adds renewable biomass thermal energy to the state's Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) for heat and power to reduce the use of fossil fuels by promoting the use of clean, sustainable, renewable biomass. This legislation was supported by Mass Audubon, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Forest Alliance. Facilities using biomass fuel must be low emission, very efficient, and use fuel that is produced by means of sustainable forestry practices.
With the new incentives, we can greatly increase the use of biomass thermal whether it is wood pellets, wood chips or firewood for homes, schools, municipal buildings, and small businesses using locally produced wood. Utilizing more junk wood from our forests will improve forestry and create real green jobs.
Wood is the most successful residential renewable energy technology in America today. The average home with an oil burner uses 700-800 gallons of fuel oil per year. Switching from oil heat to wood pellet heat reduces carbon emissions by 90 percent and can also save up to 50 percent in heating costs. Mount Wachusett Community College, Athol High School, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the Quabbin Reservoir Administration Building and Harvard Forest as well as many homes and businesses have biomass energy systems saving millions of dollars every year and greatly reducing emissions. Vermont set a goal of achieving 35 percent of all thermal energy used in the state from biomass by 2030.
Forests act as a major carbon sink but the carbon sequestration rate of our forests has diminished significantly as tree mortality has greatly increased due to insects and disease. We can increase carbon sequestration rates by practicing great forestry but we need more markets for low-grade timber. The biomass thermal program will help by increasing markets for forest biomass producing more forest improvement cuttings. This will help landowners manage their woodlots to a high standard by improving timber quality and species composition, improve wildlife habitat, generate income, increase timber values and encourage landowners to keep their land in forest.
The use of wood for energy is carbon neutral as long as our forests are growing faster than they are being cut. In Massachusetts, our forests are growing more than eight times faster than they are being cut. Increasing the use of local biomass is a win-win for everybody.
The writer is a consulting forester for North Quabbin Forestry.