RICHMOND — While Virginia is leading southern states in climate-smart programs, it still has a problem with woody biomass. Woody biomass has come under criticism because it has long been viewed as a great renewable resource, but opponents argue it is more akin to coal, since it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin included woody biomass as a new energy source the state will invest in as part of its new energy plan.
Laura Haight, with the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said woody biomass has survived this long because it gets misclassified as a renewable energy.
“As long as policies that are written up by not people but lawmakers treat burning wood as renewable or carbon neutral, it’s going to get the same exact financial incentives as wind and solar,” Haight said. “I think people want, when they think of clean energy, they want non-polluting renewable energy.”
Instead, Haight added, people often end up paying for burning wood. She noted lawmakers have been seeing it as carbon neutral due to trees growing back. By incentivizing burning wood, Haight said this goes against global climate goals. A 2021 report from the Center for Biological Diversity shows woody biomass can be twice as harmful since it emits more carbon from power plant smokestacks while leaving less carbon stored in forests.
States have been working to remove it from their renewable-energy portfolios. As part of a new climate law, Massachusetts became the first state to remove woody biomass from its renewable-energy portfolio standard. Haight said investing in truly renewable fuels puts the state in a better financial position.
“Every dollar that goes into burning wood is a dollar that could have and should have been used to develop clean resources. And those clean resources never need to be refueled again. When you burn wood, you have to keep burning wood. You have to keep on buying that fuel, it’s very expensive,” Haight said.
At the state level, she said local governments can pass their own requirements for renewable energy. Federally, the groundwork has been laid for clean energy through legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. But Haight hopes policymakers come to see woody biomass for its harm, instead of its supposed benefits.