Effects of increased biomass power in the South on forest resources, 2001–2015
This research analyzed two datasets to determine the effects of increased installations of biomass power plants on forest resources with a specific focus on the South, the region in the United States that experienced the largest growth in biomass power capacity using wood solids between 2001 and 2015. Using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, effects on timber harvest and residue production and utilization relative to the increased need for wood fiber from new biomass power plants were assessed. The study found a negative correlation between installed biomass power capacity and total forest removals (rs = -.452, p = .006) and mill residues produced (rs = -.452, p = .260) over the 15-year period. Timber harvest and residue figures across the South were flat prior to the Great Recession in 2008 with modest (19-percent) growth during the latter half of the study period. In contrast, biomass power experienced 186-percent growth from 2001 to 2015, the majority of which occurred after the Great Recession. Using a case study in Virginia, the State with the largest increase in installed biomass power capacity, it was found that newly installed biomass power plants were using exclusively waste wood, such as logging residues, which are not directly captured in Timber Product Output data. Political, ecological, and climatic considerations of biomass energy are also discussed, as well as further research needs on biomass utilization for power production.