According to a recent article in the Calaveras Enterprise, the state contract for biomass power is ending and market rate will prevail at less than 25 percent of previous contract rates. The Calaveras County Water District board unanimously favors subsidizing the state’s biomass-fueled electric generating facilities even though half of the 30 California plants have shut down.
When a government subsidy is required for a project’s continued success, I become skeptical. When the so called benefits are bandied about by political powers, I question the facts and the sources. Until we can understand all of the intricate interlocking details of an entire ecosystem, any short-term changes we inflict (and they’re all short term) must be seriously questioned. An initial subsidy to jump start a program with foreseeable and intelligently calculated long-term benefits may be needed in some cases. For example, a biomass energy plant located next to a large dairy farm, a garbage dump or a lumber mill would have obvious benefits. Hauling forest debris off-site does not. Soil is key to forest productivity, nutrient cycling, forest regeneration and ecosystem stability and biomass is, in turn, key to soil fertility. Perhaps Terry Strange, CCWD president, is right in saying that catastrophic wildfires should be avoided by tending our forests, but removing material from the natural system is short sighted.
How are the forest floors, streams and meadows nourished and replenished as would otherwise occur naturally in this man-made scheme? The living forest is a huge carbon sequestration system and takes hundreds of years to replace once it has been removed ... longer if the nutrients and litter have been removed and the natural ecosystem disturbed. While the bio-energy industry touts the use of “waste biomass.” In fact, nature does not “waste” anything.
Intuitively, I can generally agree with the advantages of controlled combustion as compared to enormous forest fires. Our forests are crowded and overgrown because fire has been curtailed for more than a hundred years due to mistaken policies. Controlled burns in situ make more sense than trucking waste away.
Many questions need answering before I can support this popular political quest. Are the emissions from all equipment and trucking and infrastructure included in the equation? How does the heavy equipment and opening of new forest roads impact regrowth. How do the emissions from a bio-generation plant compare to a natural gas plant? How much oversight will be required to test and confirm those emissions? How much water does a bio-gen plant consume? How much carbon is suddenly released into our atmosphere rather than being sequestered as composting, decaying trees in a healthy living forest?
The industrial revolution has ebbed in our wake. We are now in the information age brought on by computers and associated technologies. It’s time we work with nature, rather than dominate it for our sole purposes. Searching for another habitable planet may not be a bad idea, but let’s preserve this one while we can.
Rail Road Flat