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Forest Futures Salon: Biomass Energy

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on September 30, 2020

In a year that is now considered the worst fire season in the history of California, our community seeks to answer the question…”how can we begin to address this issue and protect our community?” At a recent Forest Futures Salon, we gathered six bioenergy experts and more than 40 community members to explore and discuss the future of our forests and how the processing of forest biomass has potential as a solution to our unhealthy forests. 

When envisioning a “healthy” forest, we dream of one that a horse can gallop through; and that is not what we currently see. Tahoe’s forests suffer from overgrowth and piles of deadwood, which drastically increases the risk for wildfire. However, moving deadwood (or biomass) out of the forests is expensive and labor-intensive for a forest service with limited resources. We need a better solution and biomass could be it.

Biomass is an organic renewable energy source- and scientists all over the world are finding new ways to make biofuels that can take the place of conventional fuels like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Increasing the number of biomass facilities allows us to bring deadwood out of the forest and use it to create a sustainable source of energy. There are, however, some barriers to creating more biomass capacity within the Tahoe-Truckee region. Firstly, political support and state policy must align to encourage and incentivize the development of biomass. We can only hope that the current fire season we are experiencing across the West will put this issue at the forefront and increase interest in forest management solutions. We need long-term policies that support processing of biomass.

Making biomass cost-effective is crucial if we want to see an increase in the number of biomass facilities across the Tahoe-Truckee region. So, how do we make removing biomass cost-effective, and what are the obstacles that stop us from getting more projects through the pipeline? We know that removing biomass from the forest is more expensive than alternative forest management strategies, or not having a strategy at all, but when you consider the impact on society and health, it’s clear that removing biomass makes the most sense. Participants in the salon voiced concern over a failure to implement preventive policies because they are ignoring the real cost that includes the damage that occurs when nothing is done.

Our speakers were able to showcase data that proves that if we let big piles of biomass decay, and if they remain in our forests and are left to burn, the consequences are far worse than removing them and intentionally burning them at biomass plants. Our partners in Tahoe-Truckee are in the process of testing local solutions and many are facing challenges at the state and federal levels. 

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation developed the Forest Futures Salon Series to connect stakeholders and create a safe place that enables members to build trust and form strong relationships. We believe that bringing together private, public, and philanthropic organizations will result in the strongest opportunities, and the benefit of bringing various stakeholders together in a salon format is that problem-solving happens in real-time. Our partners are solving each other’s problems because they’re motivated by the potential for change and the potential for healthier, stronger forests. Some of the ideas that emerged during the Q&A from the event are included in the list below:

  • Develop a solution for carbon credits that allows the forest services to receive the appropriate funding. 
  • Work with the air board to introduce a carbon offset program that rewards avoided wildfire and can help accelerate bio-energy development. 
  • Turn biomass into alternative transportation fuels and overturn the policy that currently doesn’t allow wood to be turned into transportation fuels. 
  • Introduce a protocol alongside Climate Action Reserve (CAR) that aims to reduce wildfire emissions risk and values the direct benefits of biomass. 

If you’d like to find out more about any of the projects, please get in touch and be sure to register for our next Forest Futures Salon HERE.