Your recent article, “Burning trees stretches the meaning of ‘renewable’” (Aug. 11), contains several statements from N.C. State’s Professor Hazel that we would like to address.

MeadWestvaco agrees with Professor Hazel and has stated that the use of large-scale woody biomass would drive up the price of wood fiber.

What he failed to mention is that if Senate Bill 3 is interpreted the way Duke Energy argues, then Duke Energy will be allowed to subsidize their purchase of woody biomass through their fuel cost recovery surcharge on their customers’ (including MWV) power bill. This would drive up the price of our raw material and the cost of the power we purchase.

The objection is not to increased competition that would drive up the price of wood fiberthe objection is to Duke Energy having a government-approved mechanism that would allow them to pass on increased fuel costs to their customers, giving them an advantage in purchasing woody material. This does not support fair market competition.

Professor Hazel also stated that non-merchantable (unwanted) trees could not be used for renewable energy if Senate Bill 3 is interpreted restrictively. MWV’s interpretation of allowed biomass includes a variety of woody waste materials and would clearly allow non-merchantable whole trees to be used to produce energy.

Finally, Professor Hazel suggests that the current economic downturn in the paper industry is responsible for unharvested wood thinnings “piling up too quickly.” He might better blame that problem on the downturn in the housing market. History shows that paper companies generally purchase more thinnings in down housing markets because sawmill chips are not available. The paper industry is a reasonably reliable market for landowners’ small diameter wood in good times and bad. Government policies that hurt the paper industry may well shrink that reliable market permanently.

Mark Watkins
Senior Vice President, MeadWestvaco
Richmond, Va.