Sierra Nevada Symposium

Sierra Nevada Conservancy Symposium Report

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy held a web symposium on Thursday, October 29. The symposium was held in nine locations; the Prospect attended in Quincy along with about 18 other participants.

The symposium was broken into four segments:

  1. On the ground projects
  2. Steve Wilensky, Supervisor, Calaveras County

    Brett Storey, Placer County

    Steve Frisch, President, Sierra Business Council

  3. Sustainable Economies; sustainable environments
  4. Jay Francis, Forest Manager, Collins Pine

    Craig Thomas, Sierra Forest Legacy

    Richard Forster, Supervisor, Amador County

  5. Research and Policy… Looking Forward
  6. Malcolm North, Research Plant Ecologist, USDA Forest Service Sierra Nevada Research Center

    Pam Giacomini, Board of Forestry and Fire Protection

    Steve Kaffka, Director, California Biomass Collaborative

    Jim McKinney, Emerging Fuels Unit, Fuels and Transportation Division, California Energy Commission

  7. Local Discussions

The symposium discussed very little that was new to Prospect readers. Here’s what we know:

  1. The woods are full of fuel which would have been taken care of by fire in the "old days".
  2. Previous logging practices have become controversial; placing a value on logs causes forest practices which aren’t always beneficial.
  3. Communities in the forest are endangered by the buildup of fuel and plagued by unemployment and poverty.
  4. The understory has carbon value as biomass, and small logs have applications as poles and posts; the forests can produce enough renewable energy to power our homes and energize our economy.
  5. These uses for understory are hampered by high material handling costs and relatively narrow profit margins.

Infrastructure is the key; cooperation is necessary; solutions are possible but difficult to achieve; failing is not an option for our communities.

By far, the most valuable section was the local discussion. John Sheenan from the Quincy Library Group, Christina Prestella from Sierra Business Council and Jerry Hurley from the Plumas Fire Safe Council, along with knowledgeable Forest Service employees and concerned citizens contributed.

Prospect Nutshell: We have a problem and we’re going to have to be part of the solution ourselves.

There really were no "gee whiz" moments in the symposium. What we care about is turning the excess carbon in the woods into electricity instead of catastrophe. Cogen plants work most efficiently as burners of local waste; agricultural and animal waste, in particular. This waste is already on site and has to be disposed of somehow; cogen is a great solution. Forest biomass is good fuel, but unless you use lumber mill waste, it is difficult to offset transportation and handling costs.

Green waste can be processed into fiber, biodiesel, furniture, alcohols, esters and more.

We are over-regulated; new timber harvest plan types are in the works which might help.

The system currently lacks 2 things:

  1. Cost recovery (a decent rate of return from the energy consumer)
  2. Infrastructure to field process and efficiently transport biomass

What it shakes out to is this: SPI or someone will open the cogen plant again if we do all the work for them, and make cheap fuel readily available. We will do this because if we don’t our communities will die and literally burn up.

We also have to become politically active, insisting that our carbon fuel be given the same advantages that coal and oil got when they were infant technologies. We have to force power consumers to pay a decent price for biomass electricity. Biomass power is worth the extra cost because it is renewable, and over-all much greener than having the woods burn up. Keeping the watersheds healthy has a value, and consumers should pay for it.

Somebody has to work in the woods to harvest this biofuel, and we have just the people for the job in our county.

If you live in Loyalton, your primary concern might be the jobs lost when the plant closed. If you live in the canyon you can’t ignore the fact that you are living in a situation that is not unlike living in a house of crumpled newspaper; if someone drops a match you’re in hot stuff. Either way, biomass is a concern to everyone in our county.

Symposium Rating: Eh. It was good enough, and it was nice to have so many "experts" in one place, but much of it we already knew. Would we go again? Yes.

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