The Intermountain town of Burney, 50 miles northeast of Redding, depends largely on the timber industry as the foundation of its economy. Last week, many in this small town were shocked to find that the employees of Burney Forest Power, a biomass facility, were given notice that their doors may close at the end of next month. Shasta Green, a logging and wood business that is positioned adjacent to the biomass complex, may well be a casualty of that action, as they are dependent on Burney Forest Power to take their waste products and to dry the mill’s wood through the use of steam generated by the biomass facility. Imagine the financial impact this will have on the economy in Burney. With a population of just over 3,000 residents, the loss of roughly 135 jobs will have a ripple effect on the community. The schools will lose students, property values will decline, and the number of vacant storefronts will increase. An already economically depressed community will feel the impact of this decision for generations.
So we ask why? Because, in simple terms, there are no subsidies for biomass facilities, yet we as taxpayers subsidize wind and solar power. Energy generated from biomass facilities is considered more costly than other renewable resources.
Assemblyman Brian Dahle of Bieber has spent the last two years championing the cause of subsidizing biomass plants by authoring a bill last year (AB590) that would use Cap and Trade (Prop 32) dollars. This bill would have avoided this very kind shut down by maintaining the current level of biomass power generation and even revitalize some idle facilities in geographic regions that are in need of a facility. Unfortunately the bill was never signed into law.
As a former member of the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, I am very familiar with the need for biomass facilities. Last September our board held a meeting in Fresno and toured Shaver Lake. As we stood at the vista point, many of us were amazed at the devastation we saw before us. Hundreds of acres of dead and dying trees stood, tinder dry. Last year alone, 28 million trees in California died in our forests. They are a casualty of bark beetle infestation and a lingering five-year drought. Where will this material go? With few biomass facilities to process them, they stand, dead and positioned to be the next mega-fire that we as Californian’s know only too well. What’s most troubling to us in the north state is that the bark beetle infestation is traveling north and we are seeing an increase in tree mortality in our communities. We need to be proactive, not reactive. The impact of this infestation will affect all of us in one way or another.
The closure of these two facilities would be a tragic loss for Shasta County. As our own forestland is impacted by the increase in dead and dying trees, we are in jeopardy of having a catastrophic wildfire that will burn homes, destroy our resources and threaten our lives. Healthy watersheds are dependent on healthy forests. County officials have little to no authority to act in this situation, but as an accessible representative of the people I would be supporting Assemblyman Dahle’s efforts by writing letters, making phone calls, and ensuring that there is an active pipeline of information between the decision makers and our residents. We simply cannot afford to remain silent.
Candidate/District 3 Supervisor, Shasta County