Date of Award

2-2011

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Resource Economics

First Advisor

Daniel Lass

Second Advisor

P. Geoffrey Allen

Third Advisor

David T. Damery

Subject Categories

Other Economics

Abstract

Most energy sources are derived from the sun, directly or indirectly. Stopping the increase of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will likely require more reliance on current rather than ancient terrestrial solar input. Yet which forms of renewable energy are most appropriately used is a significant question for the twenty-first century. This dissertation concerns the potential supply of biomass energy crops as a renewable energy source in Massachusetts. Biomass represents a low-efficiency solar collector, and supplying society with an important portion of its energy from biomass would require a great deal of land. The cellulosic biomass crop evaluated in this research is switchgrass, among the most studied of possible biomass crops. The study looks at biomass energy crop potential from three perspectives. First, a biomass crop supply function is developed for switchgrass by 1) using a GIS model to estimate land availability by current land use and soil type; 2) using a crop-growth simulation model to estimate potential switchgrass yields; 3) estimating marginal production cost by land parcel; and 4) calculating a supply function from marginal production costs. Total technical potential is estimated to be about 1.3 million dry metric tons of switchgrass per year, though financial constraints would likely limit production to some portion of the estimated 125,000 metric tons per year that could be produced on existing grasslands. Next, the study examines circumstances under which landowners might opt to make land available for biomass crop production. The social challenge of minimizing biomass energy cost is described. Potential biomass crop landowner decisions are characterized in a theoretical utility maximization model, with results suggesting that non-price attributes of crop production are likely important to landowners. Finally, an empirical study using a landowner survey assesses interest in growing biomass crops, and uses contingent valuation (CV) to estimate landowner willingness to accept (WTA) land rent for biomass crops. The median estimate is $321/ha/yr, with a much-higher mean estimate of $658/ha/yr (based on a parametric estimator). While the realistic potential for biomass crops is some fraction of technically feasible potential, there are other potentially important roles for biomass crops in Massachusetts, for example in preserving unused farmland that would otherwise revert to forest.

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