half a loaf

News this week that the Sierra Pacific Industries cogen plant was taking biomass was like laughing gas to a lot of people; we were walking around with continual grins.

That’s what happens when the solution to a vexing problem appears.

We have to remove fuel from the woods.

Open burning is the least desirable approach. It puts micro particles of pollutants in the air, increases greenhouse gas and is often best done when everyone is firing up their wood stoves, compounding the problem. We need to save our "carbon credits" for doing prescribed burns, after the fuel loads have been reduced.

We can chip it and spread it; that lowers the ladder fuels, but evidence is clear it isn’t an ideal situation. Not only does it form a bed of root baking coals when it burns, but it can encourage some acid loving bushes and discourage some of the plants we want. It can make some controlled burns more difficult.

Turning the biomass to energy is hands down the best way to use it. Currently the system we have is to turn it to electricity.

The news that the SPI cogen plant will take biomass means a large amount of green waste already on the ground will suddenly become less dangerous come spring, and projects which were halted can hope to move forward again.

"Hope" is the key word here. But, hope is a heady drug, and while it lifts the spirit and strengthens the limbs, anyone who has ever done cocaine can tell you that sort of thing gets easily out of hand.

Dare we hope the cogen plant will reopen? We can hope anything, but that isn’t what Sierra Pacific Industries said. They said they’d take our biomass, and while we’d like to see the cogen plant lighting homes, the critical need is met. We can be glad of that, even a little grateful, if you’re so inclined.

I’ve already been asked, "is this SPI helping us out here, or are they somehow making money from this deal?" Who cares! Are those ends mutually exclusive? I hope SPI is making money, because while they like to keep some of it, they also use it to pay workers, which we are very, very much in favor of. If the Emmersons make a million bucks off the biomass (ha!) it doesn’t matter, SPI is helping us out. Our first order of business is to reduce the fuels in the immediate area of our communities and roadways; our second is to create infrastructure for biomass. This is accomplishing those goals.

Our job now is simple: in the remaining months of fall we need to bury the cogen plant under top quality biomass. Some projects which were stalled are moving forward, but it’s a good time to clear out hazard fuels from your yard, orchard or roadway.

We so often complain that the county economy is in the dumper and there’s nothing we can do. Here’s a small thing we can do. No one knows how long this will last, do it now.

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