The coal and biomass powered Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center began operations in 2012, joining the growing number of biomass facilities in the Southeast. Photo credit: United States Geological Survey
As the push continues to seek alternative and renewable energy resources, utility companies are increasingly turning to an energy source from days gone by: wood.
The growth of the biomass-for-energy industry has been particularly vigorous in the Southeast, with exports of wood pellets rising by 70 percent in just the past year. While this industry growth can be a regional economic boon, a new study commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the National Wildlife Federation cautions that unchecked expansion of biomass facilities will threaten wildlife and water quality across the Southeast.
For Appalachia — already impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining — the consequences caused by the reckless pursuit of energy resources are a familiar reality. But while the negative impacts of coal mining are clear — from levelled mountains to contaminated water — the impacts of biomass harvesting are far less clear-cut. Overharvesting biomass can destroy wildlife habitats, contribute to water pollution and expose nearby communities to increased flood risk. But contrary to what many might suspect, the report indicates that managing forests as a source of biomass can have a host of merits when done sustainably, including protecting forests and wildlife as well as creating stable jobs and revenue.
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