Black Liquor and Wood Waste

Maryland's Renewable Energy Standard (RPS) should be devoted to clean renewable energy such as wind and solar. Instead Maryland's RPS includes black liquor and wood waste as well as other energy sources that are not clean and renewable. 

The Maryland Sierra Club supports bills (HB 747/SB 734) that would effectively remove these dirty energy sources from the RPS and thus increase the demand and ultimately the production of clean renewable energy for Maryland. 

A recent MIT study (1) showed that pollution from electrical energy generation causes 52,000 premature deaths, as well as disease, in the United States each year. The mid-Atlantic region is the epicenter of this harm. Baltimore has the highest emissions-related mortality rate in the nation, with 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely to die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution. True renewables, such as wind and solar, do not have these harmful emissions.

HB 747 will exclude older, wasteful, and carbon intensive energy sources, such as black liquor and wood waste, from the Tier 1 subsidy that the RPS provides. When burned for energy, black liquor and wood waste produce carbon emissions (2) on par with coal.

Black liquor is an industrial by-product of the pulp and paper industry. Since the 1930’s, paper mills have burned black liquor to supply electricity for milling purposes and to sell onto the grid. The climate change pollution from burning black liquor and wood waste is similar to that of coal, and the combustion of these materials also releases local toxic pollution, including sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, arsenic, and lead. Black Liquor and wood waste generate as much CO2 pollution as coal (95.13 kg/mmBtu and 93.87kg/mmBtu respectively versus 93 kg/mmBtu for bituminous coal, where kg/mmBtu are kilograms of CO2 per million BTUs of energy produced.

There is no real benefit to our state in encouraging this continuing source of pollution under the guise of promoting renewable energy. Many of these facilities were generating energy for other reasons, even before the advent of the RPS set-aside in Maryland; this bill effectively excludes them from the RPS credit, thus focusing and directing the RPS benefits toward truly renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Keep in mind that this bill does not affect the continued operation of these sources –- it simply and correctly focuses our Renewable Portfolio Standard on the types of technology we hope to encourage. 

To see how the inclusion of these materials degrades the purposes of the RPS, consider that for the past 7 years, 50% of Maryland’s rate-payer-funded Tier-1 Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have come from black liquor and wood waste and most of these are out-of-state. Conversely, Delaware and New Jersey, who already bar black liquor from their RPS, get 70% of their RPS energy from wind and solar, the types of clean energy sources that the RPS was intended to promote.  Maryland only gets 17% of its RPS energy from these non-polluting sources.

Eliminating black liquor and wood waste from the RPS would make room for more jobs in clean renewable energy and energy conservation. This bill would not affect the only paper mill in Maryland in Luke, MD. There is no ratepayer impact form removing black liquor and wood waste from the RPS.