[NEWS] Biomass Power Facilities Make Pitch For Dead Trees
– by Marc Benjamin, July 15, 2016, Fresno Bee
Trees are dying in the Sierra at modern-day unprecedented rates, posing elevated fire danger and creating health, water and air quality concerns, but a possible solution to rid the forest of dead and dying trees is getting short shrift, officials say.
California’s biomass industry is set up regionally to turn agricultural waste into electricity while eliminating open burning. But many local biomass plants have closed or are closing soon because it costs less to produce electricity with solar and wind, which get subsidies that are not available to biomass.
As contracts expired with investor-owned utilities, biomass plants have shut down in Delano, Mendota, Firebaugh, Dinuba and Terra Bella, leaving a handful in the San Joaquin Valley: Malaga, Chowchilla, El Nido in Merced County and Mount Poso north of Bakersfield. There are plans to build smaller biomass plants in the Sierra to address tree mortality, but critics say they won’t accommodate dead tree disposal needs.
Environmentalists say biomass plants pollute the air and aren’t sorry to see them go. But the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s executive director says biomass plants are preferable to open agricultural burning or a raging forest conflagration that could pump huge amounts of unfiltered smoke and particulates airborne – as did the recent Erskine Fire and the Rough Fire last year.
At its peak, the Rough Fire was emitting 25 times more particulate matter, 105 times more fine particulate matter, eight times more nitrogen oxides and 16 times more volatile organic compounds than occurs on a normal day in the Valley, said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
Such fires, fueled by dead and dying trees, cost tens of millions of dollars to fight and create a potential for health problems and lost lives and property.
“The state has made it a big priority to get rid of these dead trees, and one way they wanted to do it is to send them to biomass facilities,” Sadredin said. “But they are not doing what they should to keep biomass facilities afloat.”