Saturday, August 13, 2016

Notes on the Greenwashing of Oxford County

100% Renewable Energy Plan (draft)
Future Oxford Sustainability Plan

Oxford County's draft 100% Renewable Energy Plan was on the wrong track before it left the station.

The first problem: "renewable" does not necessarily mean "clean", "green", "low carbon", "safe", or "good for the planet".

Yes, "definitive action to address climate change is absolutely necessary" (Preface).
Yes, "the reduction of carbon emissions is arguably at the top of the list"  (1.4.3)
Yes, "If we are to reduce carbon emissions and avoid the continued acceleration of global warming resulting from copious carbon emissions, we need to stop burning fossil fuels..." (1.4.3)
...but NO, it's not "as simple as that", as the previous statement concludes.

We also need to stop burning wood, and everything else that falls under the category "biomass".  
Biomass is not a fossil fuel; it's the MOTHER OF THEM ALL.

Although wood fuel is sometimes labelled "renewable" (a replacement of the tree you burn today may grow back in a few decades), the emissions from its combustion are greater than those of any fossil fuel, including coal.
This inconvenient fact is either unknown to the writers of the report, ignored, or suppressed for other reasons.
The true renewables (solar, wind, water, geothermal) do not pump carbon, other greenhouse gases, or particulate matter into the atmosphere.  Combustion of  biomass does.

A credible action plan for carbon reduction in Oxford County (a worthier goal than 100% renewable energy) would address all the wood and biomass burning that is occurring now, with measurements and targets for reduction.
Current sources of combustion include:
- thousands of wood stoves used to heat homes and other buildings
- outdoor furnaces/wood boilers
- thousands of fireplaces and fire pits where wood is burned recreationally
- agricultural and "brush" burning
- commercial burning (e.g. wood-fired ovens in restaurants)

But the the "100% Renewable" plan appears to be concealing a different agenda under a thin layer of green camouflage: that of attracting dubious waste processing facilities to Oxford County.

Even more revealing are the linkages between the "100% Renewable Energy Plan" and its companion document "Future Oxford Community Sustainability Plan" (4.2).
Three areas of the ironically titled "Environment Oxford" subcommittee are discussed (4.2.1):
  • Reforest Oxford: [why are we concerned with reforestation, unless deforestation is planned?  oh, yes, "biomass solid fuel is an untapped resource for future growth" (1.1.3)]
  • Zero Waste Oxford: we are offered a teaser concerning "significant synergies" between the two plans, but the Future Oxford Sustainability Plan gives all away in its Goal 3iC, Action 61:  "Actively investigate the potential for waste to energy projects that support renewable energy principles and targets".  Waste to energy projects.  Take this to mean, "Toronto, send us your garbage, and we will burn it for you".
  • Smart Energy Oxford:  probably the smart people who will come to make money by building an assortment of greenwashed projects.
The report reaches the height of hypocrisy when we are told to expect cleaner air and lower health costs (1.4.5); this coming from a jurisdiction where wood smoke abounds, and open air burning is legal in even the most densely populated areas.  The County's own Health Unit has posted warnings about wood smoke (ignored by local politicians),  and the short and long term health effects of exposure to wood smoke are well documented in scientific literature.  There is not a word in the report about monitoring or reducing emissions.
We don't even have any current or historical Air Quality Health Index data, as the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change doesn't have a single monitoring station in Oxford County.
The Future Oxford plan has a goal of protecting water (3iD), but nothing comparable for the air.

On the claim that biofuel is considered carbon neutral (8.1.4):  this bit of nonsense is regularly quoted by the wood-burning industry.  They presume that all of us have forgotten the "food chain" lesson from science class.
When biomass (e.g. a piece of dead wood) decays naturally, a significant percentage of its carbon is sequestered in other life forms:  the grubs and fungi that you can see, and the billions of bacteria that you can't.  If that piece of dead wood is burned instead, ALL the carbon is released to the atmosphere, plus an assortment of greenhouse gases, as well as lung-clogging fine particulate matter.

Earth to Oxford County Council:
You may be able to con the residents of Oxford.
You may be able to con yourselves.
But you will never be able to con the planet.

References from the report:
- "wood" and "biomass" both listed as Renewables (Chapter 1, Background), and as Targets (2.1)
- biomass solid fuel listed as an untapped resource for future growth (1.1.3)
- hope to attract energy production and service companies, new jobs (1.4.1)
- the inaccurate statement that biofuel is considered "carbon neutral" (8.1.4)
- the shockingly revealing statement: "Every time you enjoy a campfire, you are using biofuel"
- expect cleaner air and lower health care costs (1.4.5)

This plan deserves to be (well, not burned) shredded and composted.

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