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TimberWest November/December 2013

March/April 2015

ON THE COVER
The GP grapple processor head by Pierce Pacific allows a single carrier to accomplish tasks that normally tie up two machines.

Making the Cut
Mike Pihl Logging continues to find success with its ‘never give up’ motto

Making a Niche
Pacific Logging and Processing finds a niche providing services for small-scale private landowners, which the company calls “‘permits to planting”

Wood Biomass Column
Oregon Sen. backs woody biomass
for government buildings

Pursuing Innovation
Tolko Industries teams with Oregon Manufacturer to try out GP head are
small volume applications.

Teaching Teachers
Sustainable Forestry Tour
Opens Teachers’ Eyes

Stewards of the Future
Chilkat Logging is Oregon’s only certified logging operation located on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation

Oregon Logging Conference Review
Highlights of the OLC,
including pictorial review

RLC Review
Highlights of the 2015 Redwood
Logging Conference

DEPARTMENTS

In the News

Association News

New Products

Guest Column

 

 

 

 

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Oregon Senator Ron WydenOregon Senator Backs Woody Biomass for Government Buildings

By Barbara Coyner

When it comes to being predictable in politics, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is not your man. Yes, he is a Democrat and often votes with his party, but on forestry issues, he does his own homework, sometimes breaking rank.

This time, the homework has led to an initiative to incorporate woody biomass power into government buildings wherever possible. A letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini outlines Wyden’s concept.

Biomass and Buildings

The February 11, 2015, letter starts by noting the hesitation of GSA and the Forest Service to employ woody biomass energy in the buildings it leases. Noting the advancements by the forest industry to expand and improve biomass options, Wyden points out the natural partnership that could occur between the Forest Service and the GSA.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden

Yet Wyden says his constituents have reported that the two agencies are dragging their feet, especially on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. In 2010, the forest headquarters burned and since then, GSA has stifled various new building proposals incorporating woody biomass. In the same area of Oregon, woody biomass options have increased. Wyden writes:

In Oregon we are beginning to see considerable advances in the production of biomass for energy uses. Rural forestry and lumber businesses have made sizable investments in the supply chain, including pellet mills and facilities for processing the small diameter trees best suited for biomass-to-energy uses. Likewise, the Forest Service has programs in place to support biomass utilization and market development, recognizing a win-win scenario where tree thinning projects help restore ecological resilience to overstocked forests and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

Fighting for Practical Solutions

Wyden’s observations clearly aren’t new to the forest industries, but it is nice to have a United States senator put together an official letter advocating such a practical solution for government buildings.

According to Wyden’s press secretary Hank Stern, the senator has made it his business to learn about pellet mills, biomass supply, and improvements to processes in woody biomass energy. Furthermore, Wyden has seen the economics when public entities add woody biomass energy capabilities to their options. His letter cites a nonprofit hospital in Enterprise, Ore., that added two biomass boilers and bought its pellets from a John Day manufacturer, saving the hospital $40,000 over previous costs in heating oil. This type of thing is a game-changer for rural communities.

Wyden also cites the Enterprise School District switching over to a wood chip biomass heating system, saving the district $70,000 and lowering the carbon emissions by 500 tons. Anyone for better air quality cannot ignore the implications there.

But citing economic factors and even air quality factors is not the real strength of Wyden’s letter. He points out the costs of transportation, quite often brought into the arguments against woody biomass. For Wyden, such arguments appear to be non-starters.

One comment I have received is that the transportation distance between sites like this one in Enterprise may be the reason why GSA would oppose the use of biomass for federal facilities. However, as evidenced by the examples above, these distances do not undermine the economic benefits of biomass heat in comparison to heating oil or propane, or the environmental benefits. It is also inconsistent to assign transportation distance guidelines to biomass fuels and not to heating oil or propane, which are transported a much greater distance.

biomassTransportation Costs

The thoughts in that last sentence bear repeating. Yes, it is “inconsistent to assign transportation distance guidelines” to one type of fuel and not another. Over and over, the old argument is about transportation costs for woody biomass, yet what are the costs for transporting fuel oil or propane? What are the development costs for these other fuels? And do they have the same bonus outcome woody biomass does in that removal of excess biomass improves forest health?

Interestingly, Wyden notes that right now, much of the biomass produced in the rural counties gets shipped elsewhere, even as far as Japan. The common sense of keeping the product around locally to heat and power buildings is clearly a no-brainer. Who can oppose such a practical system?

Will Wyden’s letter and official position on woody biomass energy in federal buildings have a favorable outcome? Who will oppose it? The letter is too recent, the proposal to GSA and the Forest Service too new to generate answers yet. Possibly opponents will surface, but so far, Hank Stern says Wyden’s idea has gone unopposed.

Let’s hope any update on the Wyden proposal will report good news. It is time the Forest Service, especially, gets behind the idea.