• Maryland Forests

AFI and MFA Provide ECI Background & Reflection



Wood-based 4 MW CHP plant on the Lower Eastern Shore provides heat and electricity to the ECI correctional institution. Photo by Brian Kittler.


ECI was commissioned in 1987 to ensure uninterrupted electric power and heating for the correctional facility. A combined heat and power system relies upon two steam boilers fueled by wood chips with a 4 MW electrical generation capacity. ECI consumes 55,000 tons of wood chips annually to produce steam that meets 100% of its heating needs and 79% of its electric needs, with the remaining 21% derived from the grid.


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THE WOOD RESOURCE


The wood chips used at ECI are derived from low-grade, small diameter trees that would otherwise have marginal commercial value, yet such thinning is an important silvicultural practice as is utilizing debris (tops, cull logs and limbs left from logging) following a regulated timber harvest.


The provision of wood chips to ECI positively impacts about 1,000 acres of forestland annually.


Thinning forests allows faster growth of remaining trees which increases value to landowners by providing future products for sawmills. Most importantly, these lands will continue to provide income for landowners and be left as sustainably managed forestland, a.k.a. "renewable". Remove the opportunity for income earnings and these forestlands fall prey to development with its conversion of open space to impervious surfaces.


According to the Pinchot Institute, statewide there may be as much as 780,000 dry tons of biomass produced annually which could be delivered at $30/ton. Notable is the fact that Maryland woodlands grow 2.8 times more than wood is harvested plus there exists large amounts of underutilized urban wood waste. Clearly, the abundance of woody biomass in Maryland could easily support many other wood energy facilities consistent with and responsive to the Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009.


The provision of wood chips to ECI positively impacts about 1,000 acres of forestland annually. Thinning forests allows faster growth of remaining trees which increases value to landowners by providing future products for sawmills. Most importantly, these lands will continue to provide income for landowners and be left as sustainably managed forestland, a.k.a. "renewable". Remove the opportunity for income earnings and these forestlands fall prey to development with its conversion of open space to impervious surfaces.


According to the Pinchot Institute, statewide there may be as much as 780,000 dry tons of biomass produced annually which could be delivered at $30/ton. Notable is the fact that Maryland woodlands grow 2.8 times more than wood is harvested plus there exists large amounts of underutilized urban wood waste. Clearly, the abundance of woody biomass in Maryland could easily support many other wood energy facilities consistent with and responsive to the Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009.


THE ECONOMIC IMPACT


ECI's use of wood produces local wealth in two ways, according to the current provider of wood chips to ECI. First, are the direct payments to forest landowners for the wood used to make chips. This cumulatively totals about $300,000 each year.


Second are the direct jobs created through logging and trucking. The operation necessary to supply chips on a continuing basis to ECI includes 13 equipment operators and truckers plus their supervisors and supporting staff. The payroll generated through these local jobs totals $730,000 annually plus an additional 20% in benefits. Secondary jobs created consist of mechanics, fuel distributors and equipment dealers.


The projected economic impact of having ECI convert from wood to natural gas would result in the regional economic loss of 50 jobs, $7 million in annual activity and over $250,000 in State and local taxes.


No other viable markets exist to recapture the wealth creation loss if ECI stops buying this wood from local landowners. Such are the January 2019 findings from an abbreviated IMPLAN analysis by the resource-based development consulting firm of Agricultural and Community Development Services (ACDS) at the request of the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology (http://acds·llc.com/wp/contact·acds/.).


The hidden economic value of ECI and other wood biomass facilities, when comparted to fossil fuel sources, is due to the local sourcing of biomass. Studies in the Northeast find that about $0. 78 of every dollar spent on fuel oil is "exported"; meaning, those dollars do not circulate in the regional economy. Conversely, woody biomass must be sourced within about 50·75 miles, so dollars spent on this energy source is circulated in the local/regional economy to generate commerce and support jobs as wood is harvested, trucked and processed. Using wood biomass to heat facilities adds value to rural economies and should be pursued, per State law, as a viable source for economic development.

The tradeoffs of continuing to use wood energy at ECI versus conversion to natural gas should include a comparison of the direct costs of each. The data is readily available from the US Energy Information Administration. From 2000 to 2007, the costs of energy for wood chips delivered to ECI have remained very constant, averaging $4.58/MMBtu. However, industrial gas prices during the same period have fluctuated considerably, ranging from $9.91 to $11.69 per 1,000 cubic feet. This has resulted in an average cost of $10.21 per 1,000 cubic feet or an average energy cost of $9.63/MMBtu. Therefore, comparing wood energy cost for natural gas ($9.63/MMBtu) with wood chips ($4.58/MMBtu) shows natural gas costs are more than double that of using wood (https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/n3020md3m.htm).


CHESAPEAKE BAY RESTORATION EFFORT


Maryland's compliance with its Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts -via the EPA-mandated TMDL goal -will cost an estimated $14.4 billion by 2025. The Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009 declares the importance of forest land retention, through sustainable forest management, to help realize a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Filtering harmful nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen + sediment) is a paramount role played by sustainably managed forests.


No other land use compares in terms of water quality protection.


Research suggests that riparian buffers alone remove 19·65 percent of the nitrogen; 30·45 percent of the phosphorus; and 40·60 percent of the sediment that would otherwise enter adjacent streams.


Retaining Maryland's remaining 2.6 million acres of forest land is the intent of both the 2009 Act and the Forest Preservation Act of 2013, a.k.a. "No Net Loss of Forest Land".


Absent a wood fueled energy project similar to ECI in the event of its conversion, sustainable forestry management on the Lower Eastern Shore would measurably be compromised. And with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's "2018 State of the Bay Report" which scored Bay quality at a D+, one could argue that sustainable forest management is key to a better grade.


GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS


Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and add it to their biomass as carbon, a process referred to as sequestration. When plant biomass is harvested or cleared from the land and burned for energy, the carbon biomass is released into the atmosphere as CO2. Forests have been historically and are currently deemed a "net sink of carbon"; according to a 2015 finding by EPA, the U.S. forest sector offset approximately 11.2% of gross U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.


On April 28, 2018, EPA announced its "policy in forthcoming regulatory actions will be to treat biogenic CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of biomass from managed forests at stationary sources for energy production as carbon neutral."


Notably, Maryland has a statutory goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, by 25% from 2006 levels by 2020 per §2·1204 of the Environment Article.


RENEWABLE ENERGY


The Sustainable Forestry Act declares, among other things, the importance of sustainable forestry to Maryland's renewable energy goals.


First, §5·102 (B) of the Natural Resources Article states: "It is the policy of the State to encourage the retention and sustainable management of the State's privately owned forest lands by ... (5) Promoting renewable energy policies and markets with increased emphasis on the use of in-State produced woody biomass".


Second, SECTION 8 of the Act states: "That Maryland's green power goal for procurement of renewable energy by State government be met, to the extent practicable, through the provision of financial and other incentives intended to promote in-State production of renewable energy, with due consideration afforded to biomass-fueled facilities".


Maryland relies on fossil energy -propone (3%), natural gas (47%), #2 heating oil (11%) and electricity (39%) mostly from coal and nuclear -for meeting its public facilities' heating/cooling needs. Maryland does, however, have renewable energy goals embodied in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -inclusive of wood ("qualifying biomass") as a Tier 1 resource -via §7·701 of the Public Utilities Article. If ECI was converted -absent an offset via an alternative wood fueled energy project similar to ECI -Maryland would distance itself from meeting its renewable goals.


CONCLUSIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS


A unilateral decision to convert ECI would be detrimental to sustainable forestry management, the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, profitability of the Lower Shore's forest products industry, and Maryland's statutory driven efforts to comply with its renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction efforts.


Maryland is well-positioned to offset the measurable impacts attendant to ECI's conversion -given the abundance of available and affordable woody biomass within the region -with usage of advanced wood combustion technology in other publicly­owned facilities.


Modern and commercially viable biomass heating, cooling, and combined heat and power (CHP) technologies can reach efficiencies of up to 80-90% while electric power plants only reach 25-30%, releasing three quarters of the energy produced into the air and/or surrounding bodies of water.


Moving forward with biomass-fueled publicly-owned facility/facilities - as a consequence of the ECI conversion -- will demonstrate the Administration's recognition of and compliance with existing statutory directives set forth in the Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009.


As the representative voice of Maryland's forest products industry and forest landowners, the Association of Forest Industries and the Maryland Forests Association, respectively, request the Hogan Administration - for all the reasons stated within this PERSPECTIVE - to consider declaring its consideration of an alternative woody biomass fueled facility to offset the conversion of ECI with an eye towards pursuing additional woody biomass-fueled facilities predicated upon the success of an initial project.


A correlation in announcement timing, if possible, would be most welcomed not only by the second largest industry on the Eastern Shore, but, more importantly, to those forest landowners whose continued stewardship represents the underpinning of forest land retention and their nexus with the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.

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Maryland Forests Association, Inc.

P.O. BOX 332, Linkwood, MD 21835

(410) 463 - 1755  •  info@mdforests.org

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