California’s Best Bet

The correlation between forest health and strong markets for forest products is crystal clear to stakeholders but is it for policymakers in California trying to manage the specter of massive wildfires?
By Tim Portz | September 11, 2017

Biomass Magazine’s cover story this month, Anna Simet’s page-18 feature “High Hazard to Bioenergy Boost,” thoroughly explains how a massive forest health epidemic in California is—temporarily, at least—rekindling the fires at a number of California’s biomass power plants that were either already or soon-to-be idled. On its surface, the relationship between the problem (vast stands of dead and dying trees) and the solution (a number of underutilized biomass power plants) feels too good to be true. Simet’s reporting makes it clear, however, that for the seemingly simple solution to perhaps California’s largest fuel-loading epidemic ever to come to pass, a number of entities that haven’t historically had to collaborate, will. What’s more, while it is clear who will have to pay the enormous cost for an uncontrolled wildfire (the U.S. Forest Service), no one is displaying much appetite to subsidize this fuel’s removal from forests to bring the costs down to a level where they can make sense in a biomass power station’s pro forma. The good news is that the common-sense potential of the role biomass can play in hazardous fuel abatement has rekindled discussions in California about the value of our industry in a way that growing piles of urban wood waste and orchard prunings, right or wrong, just haven’t.

While my feature, “Fire and Ice” is principally devoted to technical prowess of handling biomass fuels in winter accumulated by two veteran biomass aggregators in the Northeast, I’d be remiss if I didn’t convey the passion both Curt Richmond and Jamie Damman both have for the broader forestry sector. Throughout my interviews with both of them, I was struck by the responsibility they felt to play their very important role in driving economic value into the region’s wood and wood fiber supply chain. Underpinning everything they do is the steadfast belief that robust markets are key to forest health and sound forest management in the Northeast. It is this belief that tethers my story to Simet’s. For Richmond, the correlation between forest health and strong markets for forest products is crystal clear, but is it for policymakers in California trying to manage the specter of massive wildfires? If there is a better option to manage the millions of acres of dead and dying trees in California, it has yet to emerge. I’m hopeful that all of the stakeholders involved in managing this problem recognize that and get to work on sorting out a fair and sensible approach for making the economics of consuming it in the state’s biomass power assets work.

 

Author:Tim Portz
Vice President of Content  & Executive Editor
tportz@bbiinternational.com