McInnis proposes forest fuels as alternative energy source |

McInnis proposes forest fuels as alternative energy source

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis wants to take the duff from the forest floor and burn it to generate electricity while simultaneously reducing wildfire danger.

McInnis’ bill proposes to expand forest biomass energy production by providing $50 million in two grant programs to nonprofits organizations, Indian tribes, small communities and private individuals. Applicants could receive $100,000 from one program to offset the costs of building a plant, and $100,000 from the second program to help pay for the costs of collecting biomass material.

Biomass is defined as the woody material on the forest floor – pine needles, fallen branches, twigs and the lower branches of trees. Decades of fire suppression efforts throughout the West have allowed the duff to accumulate to unnatural depths, creating the perfect environment for fires to spread into the crowns of trees.

“Everyone’s looking for alternative energy sources,” said McInnis’ press secretary Blair Jones. “What can we use? And here we have this stuff on the floor.”

Forest biomass fuel is a relatively clean source of energy, releasing only miniscule amounts of carbon dioxide gas. The byproduct – ash – can be used in fertilizer.

Grant recipients would be required to abide by all environmental regulations and laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act. Many aspects, including the technology and emissions controls, are already established, Jones said.

The proposal was included in President Bush’s comprehensive energy bill, which passed in the Resources Committee late Wednesday afternoon. Jones said the proposal has bipartisan support, and legislators are unlikely to cut it from the energy bill. It will head to the House of Representatives next week.

“This is a win-win program for communities in the cross-hairs of catastrophic wildfires and a nation that needs to aggressively seek out new renewable sources of energy production,” McInnis said.

After the catastrophic wildfires that stormed through the West last summer, federal officials have drafted various plans to reduce forest fire fuels. Treatments vary from prescribed burning to hand-

cutting of brush and harvesting of small, but saleable trees.

If biomass markets were available, much of this otherwise valueless material could generate significant profits that could offset the costs of its removal while providing a source of alternative energy in rural regions. Additionally, Blair said, reducing forest fuels would save the federal treasury millions of dollars in firefighting costs each year.

California has been producing energy from biomass for more than a decade. Those interested in developing their own plant would apply for one or both of the grants to get their power plant started.

According to the California Energy Commission, combustion power plants use forest slash, urban wood waste, agricultural waste and byproducts from lumber mills to generate electricity.

Currently, biomass energy accounts for 3 percent of the energy produced in the United States. While small, that amount represents 38 percent of energy produced by alternative sources.

“With billions of tons of small dead trees, twigs and brush choking our forests, biomass energy could provide a real shot in the arm for domestic energy production,” McInnis said. “It’s renewable, it’s clean and these small woody materials have to be removed anyway, in order to get a handle on our wildfire crisis.”

Jones agreed it would be virtually impossible to have a plant up and running before the fire season begins.

“The point is, here’s a great idea that’s a win-win situation for communities at risk,” he said. “We want to help get this industry or programs off the ground, and here’s step one. Let’s get it kick-started.”


Biomass Facts

– An area can be harvested for biomass every 15 to 20 years

– Producing energy from biomass is more expensive than generating energy from petroleum or natural gas

– It takes 70 million acres of land to produce enough biomass to offset 20 percent of U.S. fossil fuel emissions

– Biomass is a renewable source of energy

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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