Updating an August story, the N.C. Utilities Commission ruled Monday that energy created from burning whole trees qualifies as renewable biomass.

Duke Energy now can cut down whole trees and count them toward renewable energy standards.
  • Photo by Jeremy Lange
  • Duke Energy now can cut down whole trees and count them toward renewable energy standards.

The commission was responding to Duke Energy’s request to allow whole trees, and not just wood waste, to count toward state energy requirements passed in 2007 that require 12.5 percent of energy sold in 2012 to come from renewable sources.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center argued against Duke’s case. The two groups issued a joint press release today stressing the need for legislation to regulate biomass production to protect forests, air, water and public health.

“Wood-based bioenergy can help North Carolina transition to a low-carbon future, while creating jobs in rural communities,” Kristen Coracini, energy policy specialist with the Southeast office of Environmental Defense Fund, states in the release.

“For trees to be a truly sustainable energy source, however, North Carolina must have procedures for carbon accounting, as well as protections for water, air, and wildlife, while preserving forests with high conservation value.”

Gudrun Thompson, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center adds that while biomass is seen as a route away from coal, the dirtiest of possible sources, it can’t be done haphazardly.
“Without environmental safeguards in place, though, cutting trees and burning them with coal in traditional power plants is not a sustainable solution,” she states.

Duke Energy plans to burn whole trees along with wood scraps at two traditionally coal-fired plants, Buck Steam in Rowan County and Lee Steam in South Carolina.