The Far Reaching Impacts of the Loss of Biomass Facilities

Steam chimney moreguefile

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.

Mary Rickert
Candidate/District 3 Supervisor, Shasta County
McArthur

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    Great information, Mary.  What can we do to help besides write to Jerry Brown?  Brian Dahle is already trying to solve the issue, but he will need the support of his colleagues in the assembly.  Will he have it?

  2. Avatar cheyenne says:

    The beetle kill in Colorado and Wyoming are also fueling forest fires.  Though the infestation seems to have halted or slowed there are many dead areas awaiting the next lightning strike, or homeless campfires like in Carbondale, for major fire.  One burning near Walden is not expected to be put out until Winter.  I talked to a Colorado forest manager and they said that it appeared that young trees are not dying because they are smaller and the winter is cold enough to kill the beetles in those trees.  Whether the trees will survive as they age and grow they, the forest service, do not know.  As the older trees are the ones most affected it is possible this is Nature’s way of culling.  Either way the Aspens now growing are very colorful.

    This beetle kill timber is being farmed by Colorado and Wyoming using private contractors and creating jobs.  The timber is going to furniture makers in Denver and a few biomass plants have been opened.  In Saratoga, Wyoming a saw mill was reopened and the state paid to train sawmill workers to work there.  In Red Feather a company is making furniture out of the beetle kill and selling it all over the mountain west.  I have seen their furniture selling here in Cheyenne and it is very rustic and quality wise.

  3. Avatar Rod says:

    Mary, it’s not what you say but instead, what you choose to leave out.

    Biomass can’t survive without taxpayer subsidies?  Loggers don’t need support they need ground to work.

    Solar and wind are clean, renewable, and in their infancy.  You want to burn wood to make steam?

    Air quality standards and petroleum consumption have put wood burners away.  That technology has expired.

    Losing 135 jobs at the Burney facility is a bitter pill to swallow.  Try to recall, it’s a drop in the bucket.  Remember way back when the environmentalists spotted the owls?  Entire towns were ruined.  Mills were sold for scrap.  Just in my family, 3 generations of woodsmen were rendered unemployable.  Shasta County lost more than 1,000 nonsubsidized  jobs.  There were no pensions nor bailouts.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    PG&E buys more bioenergy than any other energy purchaser in California, with biomass accounting for 17% of its renewable energy portfolio.  That’s not too far short of the 20% goal established by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006.

    However, to protect ratepayers, biomass has to be competitive with alternative renewable energy sources.  PG&E’s contracts with energy producers are reviewed and approved by the CPUC to ensure that they balance the interests of obtaining more biomass generation at reasonable prices and under reasonable terms, compared with other alternative energy sources.

    Dale’s bill was passed by the Assembly by unanimous vote.  The reason the bill stalled in the Senate is the projected fiscal impact. The burden on businesses and consumers that the bill would create is said to undermine the monetary safeguards of AB 32—California Global Warming Solutions Act.  Opponents also argue that biomass facilities actually increase net greenhouse gas emissions and airborne pollutants, which means that it would work contrary to the goals of AB-32.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      Also, biomass had its day in the sun when it came to subsidies.

      From California Energy Commission’s website:  “The purpose of the Existing Renewable Facilities Program (ERFP) was to allocate funds collected from investor-owned utility ratepayers through a public goods charge to increase the competitiveness of existing (operational on or prior to September 26, 1996) in-state renewable generating facilities. The goal of the ERFP was to create a self-sustaining market for existing facilities by which these facilities can operate without public funding by no later than December 31, 2011.”

       

      Resource
      Total Payout (1998-2011)

      Biomass
      $232.78
      million

      Digester Gas
      $0.02
      million

      Geothermal
      $16.39
      million

      Landfill Gas
      $2.78
      million

      Small Hyrdo
      $4.54
      million

      Solar Thermal
      $41.97
      million

      Waste Tire
      $4.21
      million

      Wind
      $36.42
      million

      Total
      $339.14
      million

       

      Biomass got about 70% of ERFP funding.

    • Avatar Bruce Ross says:

      Steve,

      Just to clarify, in 2014, PG&E got 5 percent of its power from “biomass and waste.” That is indeed about 17 percent of its renewable load, but a far cry from meeting the RPS standard (even the old one) with biomass.

      Unfortunately, the plants have been closing at a rapid clip.  I am certain 2015 will have much lower biomass production than 2014, and this year will be lower still if nothing changes.

       
      https://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/myaccount/explanationofbill/billinserts/11.15_PowerContent.pdf

       

       

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        I’m not against subsidizing biomass energy—I’m guardedly okay with it.  I support most alternative energy subsidies, and I certainly don’t want those jobs in Burney to evaporate.

        I just get the sense that there are many people who—for reasons of political philosophy—are generally against subsidizing alternative energy, because the gum’mint shouldn’t be interfering in markets.  But many of those same people are for subsidizing biomass energy because those subsidies are in turn subsidizing their country-cousin lifestyles.

        That lifestyle subsidy isn’t provided just to the guys who work at Burney Forest Power and benefit directly from the subsidy.  It also extends to the guy who owns Alpine Burger—it’s that “ripple effect” that Mary mentioned.

        • Avatar Bruce Ross says:

          My boss is not inclined to subsidize businesses.  Biomass does have substantial public benefits.  Not least for this region, there are tens of thousands of acres worth of community fuel breaks and other forest projects whose economics are based on having somewhere to put the chips to at least a modest productive use.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Arguably all alternative energy sources have substantial public benefits, but those benefits come at a cost, so there’s the burden of establishing the value of the benefit in exchange for the required subsidy.  The vote in the Assembly suggests that the case for AB-590 was well made.

            As far as I can tell, the hang-up in the Senate seems to turn on the particulars that I described in my first post.  Are those being addressed in a re-drafting of the bill?  Or are they show-stoppers?

            Speaking from the perspective of self-interest alone, I sure value dumping a truckload of brush or rotten cedar fence material at Wheelabrator for the price of free.

          • Avatar Bruce Ross says:

            Well, there is a substantial chunk of cap-and-trade money —$1.3 billion at last count, if memory serves — that the Legislature has not figured out how to spend.  There are obviously a lot of ideas and more wishes than dollars. Kevin DeLeon released a plan last week.  It did not include any biomass solution.

            It is strange, however, to see a bunch of politicians unable to spend such a large pile of money — for two years now.  Normally they have the opposite problem.

  5. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    Sounds like a number of issues including ongoing drought and beetle infestation coupled with high-cost of cutting/cleanup, transporting and processing are making it difficult for these businesses to retain employees and see any monthly profit at the same time. It is sad to hear jobs are going to be lost though not shocking.

    Burney is of course in the north-east far reaches of Shasta County. It seems unlikely anyone in state assembly or the Governor’s office will provide a feasible  solution to this unfortunate but inevitable loss.

    At any rate, Rod is right. Solar and wind are clean, renewable and the way to go these days.

  6. Avatar Dick says:

    Well now I’m totally confused, Burney Forest Power goes out of business because they can’t sell power to PG&E, and yet it apparently makes sense to invest it a whole new biomass plant to sell power to PG&E http://www.redding.com/news/local/planning-commissioners-give-the-go-ahead-for-new-biomass-plant-3a244469-232e-5cbb-e053-0100007fa2dd–390650761.html 

    Huh?

     

    • Avatar Rod says:

      Careful, Dick your adventure in the absurdity is unfolding!

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        I don’t care who you are….if you don’t think it’s amusing that a guy named Rod is arguing with a guy named Dick, I suspect you long ago murdered your Junior High self and threw his corpse in the sinkhole on the back 40.

        • Avatar Rod says:

          Even more amusing is your miscomprehension concerning my encouragement of Dick.  He pointed out the same confusion we all see.

          Tear out one facility and build a twin using who’s taxes?  That’s absurd.

           

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Doh!  You’re right, Rod.  I misunderstood.

            I’d take a wait-and-see approach on the Hat Creek Construction facility.  They have permission from Shasta County to build—it’s not a given that they will, unless the subsidy picture brightens substantially.  They may be holding off on breaking ground until Dahle gets that done.

            I suppose the other alternatives are that there’s some unrevealed synergy with the other business lines at Hat Creek Construction, or even that they intend to build the plant and sell the energy at a loss as a benefit to the community.

  7. Avatar cheyenne says:

    Wind and solar are the wave of the future but they have some road bumps to get over.  For large generating wind and solar they require large areas which usually mean they are far from where the power needs to go.  The Federal Energy Department reported that the country at present only uses about 5% of its potential in wind power.  This is because the grid to carry that power to where it is needed doesn’t exist yet.  Cheyenne is surrounded by the 400 foot behemoth commercial windmills but you can’t put those in certain areas.  Using that energy locally or to send it to Denver area is feasible but it will require a lot more grid to get that power to the southwest states.There are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out before wind and solar pass coal and oil power generation.  Which means, like it or not, coal, oil, natural gas and biomass are with us for awhile.

    On the good side it snowed in Saratoga last night.  Maybe a sign winter will be here soon and bring a lot of snow.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I don’t understand why we’re not turning every parking lot in the Western US into a solar array.  Parking lots are close to places that demand a lot of electricity, and elevated solar panels create something that’s much loved and generally in short supply in the West:  Shaded parking.

      I was told by a solar system engineer that building a raised solar array in the parking lot at a local school would increase the cost by 10%.  The school couldn’t afford the extra cost, so it had to develop some previously open space which otherwise would have remained open space.

      I get it that grants aren’t going to cover the extra cost unless it’s mandated.  So mandate it.

      • Avatar Bruce Ross says:

        Amen about solar-shade parking.  I have serious envy of that drug company off the 505 in Vacaville.

        • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

          When I pitched the parking lot solar array to the school as a CEQA alternative, I referenced Genentech’s campus off of 505.  It didn’t make it as a CEQA alternative because it was economically unfeasible—the school was constrained by its grant funding.  (The parking lot array went in the “alternatives considered but not analyzed” trash heap.)

          I briefly considered approaching The McConnell Foundation about funding the extra 10% and making it a pilot project for the state, but my batting average with TMF is .000, and I didn’t think the parking lot proposal stood much chance of being my first hit.

          I sleep at night, but it still bugs me.

      • Avatar cheyenne says:

        The FRYS grocery store on West Bell Avenue in Phoenix, a couple of years ago, covered part of their parking lot with a roof that furnished much needed shade for cars.  In addition they installed solar panels on that roof.  The FRY’S employee I talked to said those solar panels would save the store $10,000 a month.  That seems high but in Phoenix it might not be.

        Regardless the solar panels were financed through a fund set up with funds from the APU ratepayers.  The present Arizona politicians canceled that fund.

      • Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

        I agree, Steve. The extra 10% cost for elevated solar panels that  provide parking shade would be money well spent and is a great idea. A good example: Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico.

        As for most schools and public parking lots, vandalism and repair costs to solar equipment would have to be considered. I imagine repair would be somewhat ongoing and expensive.  A little extra security could be the answer. However, it might push overall cost a bit beyond 10%, I guess.

        Overall, the idea would add a smart look to Redding and be well worth the cost, IMO.

  8. AJ AJ says:

    I read a proposal a while back that suggested solar arrays installed over the many miles of Calif canals would cut down on water loss from evaporation and provide power output at the same time. I’m SURE there’s a ton of reasons why that couldn’t possibly work but sounded intriguing.

    I know the above idea isn’t something that would help Burney….I’m afraid that’s going to call for a magic wand.

  9. Avatar jobs says:

    Great,  more working people out of work.  Well welfare and selling drugs seems to be a viable option today

    InShasta county.

  10. Avatar Virginia says:

    We are killing our own jobs over Climate Change her.

    All the individuals and our Government ought to worry about cleaning up China, India, etc. before worrying so much about the USA!  Where is the cry to stop those polluters?   Almost non-existent!   Why?  They are taking our jobs, and killing us with their own extremely horrible, very heavy pollution, where they have to wear masks!  USA is low on list of polluters by any type of comparison!

  11. Avatar name says:

    It makes zero sense that Burney Forest Power cannot get a good enough PG&E contract to stay in business, yet Hat Creek Const. can build a brand new facility from scratch, in the same area, and make it work.  There are details missing here.  Perhaps the technology of a new facility is much greater than what Burney Forest is using?  This would allow them to generate at a lower cost.  Maybe they were able to get a better contract from PG&E than the guy who is closing?  I would doubt that they would go to the trouble of applying for a permit, and EIRs. etc. without something in place from PG&E detailing the numbers (especially with the guy down the road going out of business).  I doubt that the fact he is related to a County Supervisor means anything.

    There is something missing with this whole story.  Maybe at some point the details will emerge.  The logging will always go on, perhaps even more so now with the high number of dead trees.  The slash will get burned – if they do not chip it and send it to biomass, it will be burned in piles at the logging site during the winter.

    • Avatar Rod says:

      Yes name, there’s a lot of information missing  here.   And the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is your quote,”and make it work”.  Good one.

      The Hat Creek crew can make it work if any locals can.  How many attempts in Burney have come before?  The excitement of creating a new environmentally friendly business fades after the imposed costs of operations and unrealistic expectations get exposed.

      The real truth is simple,  burn wood to make steam, and make it work.  The handling of raw materials is equal to lumber quality systems.  Labor and transportation eat everything produced.  Sure the material rots on the ground or burns in fires,  but it’s not free or even cheap to haul to the facilities.  It’s quite similar to the family farms,  how many barrels of oil do we plow into an acre?

       

       

    • Avatar Bruce Ross says:

      Name,

      It is very strange, right?  I believe Hat Creek is pursuing a small project under a law (SB 1122) that promotes small biomass projects, up to 3mw.  There are a few similar projects popping up in Northern and Central California, but all of them put together are smaller than Burney Forest Power.

  12. Avatar jobs says:

    Where are all the Dr.s and PhDs coming from them top colleges?  It’s past time for one of them great invention that will shock the world?   Micro nuclear power plants for the home, office, and car.

     

    • Avatar cheyenne says:

      The problem with nuclear is where to put the waste.  There is talk now about sending that nuclear waste to Wyoming and I’ll tell you right now that won’t happen.  As for micro nuclear plants, try to get rid of a microwave, nobody will take them even here in Wyoming.

  13. Avatar Fran says:

    I remember this plant, back some time it was called a co-gen plant.  I recall it having had several owners, and it was up and down as far as working capacity, and was never a reliable source of energy, and  always more costly.   After checking the data from the plant, they have 25 employees.  When I google Shasta Green, they have 50 full time employees.  This independent owner has the logging mill, and owns the trucking too.  Why don’t they build their own co-gen plant on site?

    I’d love to see 100-150 people (or more) get jobs, if it would work out at Shasta Green.   The fact remains that Biomass Plants emit more pollution than fossil fuel plants do.  It might be renewal, but that doesn’t make it clean.

    If subsidies put people to work, I am all for it.  I see too many politicians say we have big government, and then blame those people who are unemployed and need services lazy, and yet they scream for bigger government time and time again.    AB 590 never passed:   AB-590 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund   https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClientxhtml?bill_id=201520160AB590

  14. Avatar CD says:

    In the Cascades and the Sierras wood is going to burn one way or the other.  In terms of air quality, better to ship it to a cogen plant where it is burned under controlled conditions, rather than let it burn up in a wildfire.  As I recall, Shasta County was fined by air quality for the smoke sent up during the Fountain Fire.  Public costs just aren’t that simple; there are just so many far reaching factors that seldom get factored in to arguments like biomass plants aren’t economically feasible relative to other power sources; for example, the cost of fighting large campaign wildfires every year after year after year should be factored in when discussing the biomass subsidies; less woody debris to burn should make wildfires less destructive.

  15. R.V. Scheide Jr. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    The password is “externalities.”