North Carolina Court issues a bad biomass decision

On August 2, 2011, the North Carolina Court of Appeals turned down an appeal from a couple of environmental organizations, and ruled that wood derived from whole trees in primary harvest can count as a renewable energy resource when burned for electricity.

North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) requires electric public utilities to meet renewable energy standards beginning in 2012. Therefore, last year, Duke Energy applied to register its two electric generating stations with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, so they can generate renewable energy credits. These two stations - Buck and Lee Steam Stations - use a blend of wood chips and coal as a fuel. The Utilities Commission approved Duke’s application and allowed the facilities to receive renewable energy credits.

Last year, Environmental Defense Fund and North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association filed an appeal against this decision, and argued that the Utilities Commission had been wrong when it concluded that whole trees can be counted as a renewable biomass under the REPS. The groups contended that not all biomass can be counted as a renewable source. If all biomass sources were counted as renewable, energy facilities would receive renewable energy credits even when they burn fuel derived from whole trees and fuel that comes from unrestricted clear-cutting of forests.

The appellants further argued that the REPS’ definition of “renewable energy resource” only includes wood waste and intentionally produced energy wood. Unfortunately, the Court ruled that that was not the case and that any resource that is considered organic and renewable can receive the state’s credits, including whole trees.  This means that regardless of its possible negative impacts on our forests and our climate, North Carolina will treat all biomass, including whole old-growth trees, as renewable energy resource and eligible to receive renewable energy incentives.