Renewable energy is energy that does not come from finite sources such as fossil fuels. It includes hydropower, wind power, solar, geothermal and biomass. In the Pacific Northwest, biomass is the second most abundant source of renewable energy next to hydropower.
According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the forest products sector is the leading producer and user of renewable biomass energy, which produces more energy than solar, wind and geothermal energy combined. The most common types of biomass used by Northwest pulp and paper mills are wood chips, bark, wood shavings and pulping liquor, a byproduct of the pulp making process.
In Washington, environmental groups included biomass energy in their successful 2006 Initiative 937, which mandates renewable energy use by major utilities.
As former Washington State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark noted, “By using limbs and tree tops that are normally piled and burned after harvest, we can create a new market that contributes to our growing renewable-energy sector and generates rural jobs.”
Nationally, two-thirds of the power used by paper mills is from biomass. The reduced dependence on fossil fuels has resulted in major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. From 2000 to 2010, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from paper mills nationwide were reduced by 40 percent; Northwest mills have exceeded that accomplishment. For example, since 2001, one NWPPA member reduced their GHG emissions by 72 percent company-wide.