Appalachian Basin

Message to Natural Gas Opponents: Cut Nonsense, Not Trees

Recently, Adrian Kuzminski, moderator of Sustainable Otsego, wrote a piece for the Oneonta Daily Star where he suggested a wood-pellet alternative to natural gas energy development in our county, claiming it was the “conservative” way to go.  Dave Parker, a member of the Town of Worcester Town Board, took issue with those contentions in a letter to the editor that forms the basis for the following post.

The following suggestions were made by Adrian Kuzminski of Sustainable Otsego in a submission to the Oneonta Daily Star on November 24:

We need to transition to renewables locally as quickly as we can. Fortunately, we live in the midst of a vast biomass region, counting field grasses as well as woodlots. We have local pioneering initiatives such as Enviro-Energy in Wells Bridge, making grass pellets, and New England Wood Pellet in Delaware and Herkimer counties. Our biomass resources could be sustainably harvested, processed, and consumed locally for heating, replacing fossil fuels including gas as well as oil, and potentially developed into a biofuels industry. Talk about jobs!

Economists call this process import replacement, a proven path to wealth creation. The more dollars circulate locally, beginning with harvesting raw materials, to transporting, processing, distributing and consuming them, the better off we all are. This is the ultimate boost to the local economy and a real energy independence!

Unfortunately, big business dominates Washington and Albany. As a result, current public policy promotes fossil fuels, including shale gas, at the expense of renewables.

Shale gas is no mom-&-pop operation. It is produced by national and global corporations to benefit distant investors. Although initially this might be a locally derived product, it would be available to us only after circulating through a complex national and increasingly global system of distribution, storage, refining, pricing and redistribution.

Harvesting woodlots and grass as a heat source alternative to natural gas, even on a scale that would merely supply the energy needs of just our own county,  is, to put it politely, ridiculous. Starting with chainsaws, skidders and choppers through processing ovens and compressors to packaging and diesel transportation and finally to government-subsidized pellet storage and furnace retrofits, the notion of eco-benefit is humorous at best.

Has Kuzminski bothered to compute how much energy is needed to heat Otsego County’s 20,700 or so homes who don’t already burn wood?  Has he taken the time to calculate how much forest would have to be removed to create the natural gas alternative he seeks?  Does he have any idea how many acres of biomass would be required to meet the needs of our area?  Has he considered the costs and practicality of a processing and distribution system for his wood pellets on the scale that would be required?

According to the Energy Information Administration, New York State homeowners alone (before considering commercial and industrial needs) use an average of 611 kilowatts per month or 7.3 megawatts per year of energy.  That means Otsego County would need to generate slightly over 150,000 MW of power annually or a little over 400 MW per day, if it shifted from other sources to wood.  A 50 MW biomass plant burns 2,550 lbs. of green wood per minute, so this means it would take roughly 10 tons per minute or 14,400 tons per day of wood to fire the power plant(s).

The USDA Forest Service says “On average, by county, there are 41 tons of live tree biomass per acre of timberland.”  Therefore, we’d have to clearcut 350 acres per day of Otsego County forestland just to power the county’s homes with forest biomass.  The county has roughly 375,000 acres of forest land, so that will last us 1,071 days or slightly less than 3 years.  I wonder what Adrian Kuzminski plans after that?  I know his faith in renewables knows no bounds, so perhaps he thinks the trees will grow back in three years.  If he’s wrong, though, our county could end up looking like this again:



Interestingly, Kuzminski, seems blithely unaware of what once was and what would occur again if his ideas were taken seriously and applied in the real world.  Yet, he worries about the impact of natural gas, which disturbs very little land (as little as 1% or less).

Again, one wonders what devastation he’s talking about.  He seems to ignore the fact Otsego County would require eight of the 50 MW babies shown below to meet its energy needs with forest biomass, not to mention clearcutting of all its forest cover.

He even poses this question (emphasis added):

Finally, it is the ultimate NIMBY argument to be against fracking but in favor of drawing gas from the proposed Constitution pipeline. It is still fracked gas. Is it okay to accept the devastation of other communities to get their gas?

This statement displays obvious distress that his 100% anti-gas philosophy has not yet sunk in with all his followers.


50 MW Forest Biomass Power Plant (Photo by Chris Matera of Massachusetts Forest Watch)


It also occurred to this “conservative” during another visit last week to Susquehanna Co., Pa., in search of the eco-disaster or catastrophe Kuzminski attributes to natural gas, that the leaders of the newly coined populist anti-gas movement are not liberals or progressives or anything like that, but, rather, true ideologues.

Older Webster’s dictionaries define ideology as “thinking or theorizing of an idealistic, abstract or impractical nature; Fanciful speculation.” This absolutely accurately describes the mindset of the current Pied Piper anti leaders. I couldn’t care less about the fantasies of the leaders themselves, but I do care about the impact of their tactics of fear, exaggeration, envy, demonization, etc., on their followers and ultimately upon all of us. They have directly and intentionally crafted an environment of adversarial hostility based upon irrational fear and emotion to foster their personal idealistic vision – a vision that is patently absurd when measured against the facts.

I appeal again to the petition-signing letter-writers who get their anti-information from secondhand sources to hop in the car and witness the true story of natural gas development for yourself.  Take a trip to Pennsylvania before we cut all our trees down in pursuit of an unrealizable dream.

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