Support Renewable Energy from Forest Restoration: Guest Post by Brad Worsley

 

This is an unusual post for TSW.. there’s only a couple of times I’ve posted something about contacting Congress.  If you live in a state with a Republican Senator and forest thinning for fuel reduction (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah), please consider contacting your Senator. This is a guest post from Brad Worsley of Novo BioPower in Arizona.

Biomass power generation can be a tough business! Unlike other power sources, using a non-homogenous fuel source brings complications when trying to create power. Imagine fuel like solar radiation, or Natural Gas, or pulverized coal…each brings a very constant and steady input of energy. Now imagine ground wood that comes in all different sizes, moisture content, BTU content, etc. If you combine that reality with the risk of being an independent power provider you might ask, why do we do it? The answer…it is personal to us! We felt the heat of catastrophic wildfire as it burned through our properties and changed the forest around our homes for generations. We recognize that we are helping resolve a generational issue and we want to make a difference. Senator John McCain said that fire and water are the two largest natural resource issues Arizona will face in the next 100 years. Novo Power is the keystone in the effort to restore our forests, mitigate high intensity fire, and restore the watershed function of our National Forests in Arizona. The issue that Novo Power faces is the reality that the renewable electron is not worth what it used to be worth. The high cost associated with renewable energy historically allowed forest restoration to piggy back but now with renewable energy at a fraction of what it used to cost, we face the reality that the renewable electron is the 4th or 5th most valuable part of what we do each day. Forest restoration, watershed mitigation, clean air, economic impact,  increasing the safety of firefighters, and communities, water and energy infrastructure may all be more valuable than the renewable credit we produce.  With that being said, we have to be creative about how we fund the cost of restoration. A critical component of that funding ought to be the Federal government. They are the stewards and have been the stewards of this land for over 100 years.

Senator Mark Kelly’s office is currently working on a Biomass PTC bill that would help a biomass facility that focuses on removing high hazard fuels from federal forests to receive a Production Tax Credit (PTC) to help offset the impact of federal taxes. A recap from Senator Kelly’s office is below:

  • Wildfires turn our forests into carbon emitters. Each year, around 8 million acres burn in the United States. The USDA Forest Service estimates about 80 percent of our national forests are at extreme risk of wildfire.
  • The Forest Service is trying to reduce wildfire severity and restore the health of our forests by removing dead, drought stricken, and insect infested trees from forestlands that are at high risk of wildfire.
  • The Forest Service is focusing on removing small hazard trees while avoiding harvesting large old-growth trees. Over the past 20 years, the work has been slow-going because there is no market for timber mills to use low-value timber for lumber.
  • Biomass energy production can provide a market for the Forest Service to accelerate its forest restoration projects. California is a leader in piloting this effort.
  • The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) for open-loop biomass facilities engaged in forest restoration activities
  • The bill would apply the renewable energy PTC (1.5 cents per kW produced) for producers of electricity if their biomass facility is engaged in forest restoration activities authorized by the Forest Service.
  • The credit applies to existing units of open-loop wood biomass electricity production on a monthly basis, regardless of when they were placed into production, for a term up to 10 years
    This tax credit would build upon but is separate from the existing production tax credit for open-loop biomass, which is for non-hazardous agricultural biomass waste and includes the following forest-related resources: mill and harvesting residues, precommercial thinnings, slash, and brush

Currently there is sufficient support from Democrats, we are desperately looking for a Republican Senator to step up and help sponsor this bill. We would encourage citizens to reach out and lobby their Republican Senators to stand up and help on this bi-partisan issue.

Bradley Worsley, President and CEO of Novo Biopower, LLC.

MBA – Supply Chain Management – Michigan State University

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Here’s a copy of the proposed bill. It’s only two pages. Check it out, and if you feel inclined, please give your R Senator a call!

5 thoughts on “Support Renewable Energy from Forest Restoration: Guest Post by Brad Worsley”

  1. I really prefer when they burn slash in the woods rather than capturing it and make electricity from it. Makes way more sense to do that.

    Reply
  2. “Current science is clear: burning forest biomass to make energy is not carbon neutral, and the burning of wood pellets is dirtier per unit of electricity than burning coal. In the leadup to the updated REDII policy revision proposals, European Commission Exec. VP Frans Timmermans says he truly values forests, but simultaneously believes that cutting them down and burning them to make electricity remains viable climate policy. More than 50% of the EU’s current wood harvest is being burned for energy. “Ecocide threatens the survivability of our forests. I certainly don’t underestimate the challenges we face, but still, I believe [burning forest] biomass can play a very useful role in the energy transition,” says Timmermans.” https://news.mongabay.com/2021/06/forest-advocates-press-eu-leader-to-rethink-views-on-biomass-and-energy/

    The above quote is pertinent because Europe’s forestlands are far more depleted of merchantable timber than in North America and what happens when merchantable sawlogs are not available is that you have whole tree chipping proposed, which exacerbates the timber industry’s chronic problem with clearing the forests at young and younger rotatations (unsustainability).

    But to be profitable price per ton of chips needs to be higher and harvest and hauling costs needs to be lower, which is why there’s been so many timber industry lobbyists in Europe working hard to make what Sharon refers to as a “tough business” more feasible.

    In general, turning forests into chip fuel is always presented as a “renewable” way to reduce waste and clean up the forest, yet the forest has no waste, it’s actually called large woody debris which is essential for long-term soil recruitment and we need wood to keep soils healthy rather than pollute the atmosphere.

    In Washington State where I live in the early 2000’s the timber companies were looking at all their unmerchantable trees and realizing if they could push the market to near triple the price per ton of wood chips they could harvest immature forests profitably. RIght about that that time the landscape supply business that depends on forest waste got squeezed and prices started to rapidly climb. But then cost of oil went thru the roof and the Commissioner of public lands announced that harvesting forests for woodchips would constitute a new land use practice and would have to undergo a full environmental review to establish rules. That’s when all the investors lost interest in developing that market in my state.

    There’s still plenty of biofools burning wood in our state not realizing that it’s as dirty as coal, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  3. First off the carbon questions around biomass are far from settled. Many of the papers often cited by “enviros” such as Hudenburg’s paper were developed on assumptions that make no sense. No one is going to transport logging slash 4 hours one way to make electricity at 30$ a bone dry ton. It makes no sense and will never happen. Secondly woods “chips” as you call them are going to make paper not biomass fuel. Chips are worth 3-4x biomass fuel. Also biomass comes from trees that grow back and reabsorb carbon where as coal comes from millions of years old dead plant stuff that will never ‘grow back’. Biomass is not the same as coal.

    Reply
    • Actually it keeps getting settled in favor of the enviros again and again… Claiming that questions around biomass are still unsettled are not much different than claiming that the need to apply ecosystem management to logging plans is still unsettled. It simply makes you look like a stick in the mud who refuses to accept new knowledge and less destructive treatment of the only planet we have.

      For example two decades ago in my state the timber industry bribed legislators into recognizing that logging and biofuels was carbon neutral and relevant legislation recognizing that was signed into law. Then the actual science and facts were presented and the state rescinded the carbon-neutral claim because based on all the best available science that made it clear that logging and wood chips production is a massive emitter of greenhouse gases. This routine has happened in Oregon and many other states and countries. The timber industry keeps losing because their claim is a lie. There’s no new science / new studies vindicating their antiquated claims only the same old tired arguments that have fewer and fewer supporters.

      But you are indeed correct about the value of logging slash, as well as clearing of immature forests being unprofitable if the hauling distance is too far. My point was the threat to our future forests if you could triple or quadruple price per ton of chips by rigging the markets the way energy companies like Enron once did you would not only eliminate huge amounts of sequestration from young trees once they mature in the future, but it will put way more carbon into the atmosphere that we’ll have less and less ability to sequester out due to the still rapidly accelerating deforestation crisis on every continent on our planet.

      Reply

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