Western Maryland & the Clean Energy Debate

Jan 27, 2015

 By Paul Noe, Vice President for Public Policy, American Forest &
 Paper Association
 The Cumberland Times-News

 The General Assembly of Maryland has begun its 435
th session with
 over 200 bills introduced as of Friday morning, including a bill to
 further promote clean energy in the state.  While lawmakers should
 carefully consider any proposal, they should also continue to recognize that western Maryland is already home to a leading source of carbon-neutral renewable energy: biomass.

Paper and wood products manufacturing facilities in western Maryland and around the country produce and use renewable biomass energy developed from wood fiber, which is the raw material in the products they make.  Taking the wood residues from their manufacturing processes that would otherwise go to waste, they create both thermal and electrical energy using some of the most efficient generating processes in the world. 

Leading regulators, environmental advocates and scientists have taken notice.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Defense Fund and leading scientists have acknowledged that energy from biomass residues should be credited for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Simply put: using biomass residues to create energy doesn’t produce more carbon than just disposing of the residues. 

In addition to being efficient and carbon-neutral, biomass energy from places like western Maryland is also consumer-friendly.  It helps to provide the state’s electricity ratepayers with the lowest cost renewable energy.  

Biomass is also a great complement to other intermittent renewables like solar and wind because it’s a reliable baseload energy source.  It provides carbon-neutral energy regardless of the weather, which is the consistency you need to make renewable energy practical. 

Paper and wood products manufacturing in western Maryland also does more than just generate carbon-neutral renewable biomass energy.  It also generates good jobs and economic growth for the state. 

Maryland’s paper and wood products manufacturing facilities, and the forestry and logging companies who help supply them, directly employs more than six thousand people and supports more than fifteen thousand more jobs across the state.  These are high-paying jobs that help support families and communities.  This industry also generates almost $30 million per year in taxes to state and local government. 

Nationwide the forest products industry accounts for nearly 4 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures approximately $210 billion in products annually, and employs nearly 900,000 men and women. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $50 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 47 states.  

Like Maryland, lawmakers in other states have assessed the environmental and economic advantages of biomass energy from paper and wood manufacturing facilities as part of their renewable energy programs.  Pennsylvania, Virginia and California all recognize paper mill biomass energy in the renewable energy programs, as do many other states across the country.  Maryland should continue to do the same. 

Lawmakers in Annapolis have debated changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard before.  Each time there are some that make an effort to disqualify biomass energy from being listed among the leading sources of clean energy.  Yet each time the issue has been considered carefully, legislators have decided to continue recognizing biomass’ important contribution to Maryland. 

The new state legislature and Governor Hogan will now have their own opportunity to evaluate the best policies to generate clean, affordable and reliable energy for Maryland.  As they do, they should recognize that biomass energy from western Maryland and beyond is already producing that energy along with great economic contributions for the state.