Forests of energy?

There is a good deal of merit in a proposal to use beetle-killed lodgepole pine as a biomass fuel to run a small electric generation plant in western Colorado.

But there are also some serious questions that need to be answered before the project can move forward. Primary among them is: How much fuel is available in realistically accessible areas in amounts that would allow the veture to be profitable?

Evergreen Clean Energy LLC, of Provo, Utah, is considering construction of a 10 megawatt electric power plant in Eagle County, using the millions of dead lodgepole pines in Colorado’s mountains as a primary fuel source.

The company is working with former Aspen Mayor John Bennett and will present a discussion of its proposal Wednesday at a biomass summit in Carbondale.

Anyone who has driven through the northern mountains of Colorado in recent years has viewed the huge stands of lodgepole pine that first turned rust-colored as the pine beetles killed the trees and their needles lost their green hue. Then the trees become gray skeletons as the needles drop.

The dead trees are a fire hazard and we have long agreed with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation that, in areas where the dead stands are near private homes and other buildings, or close to roads and well-used trails, campgrounds and other facilities, the trees should be harvested and the wood from them utilized before it is ignited by fire or the value of the wood simply rots away.

But the dead trees exist in many locations far removed from easy accessibility. Some are on steep slopes well away from roads. Some are in wilderness areas, or they are in isolated parts of designated roadless areas that may soon be given special protection under Colorado’s Roadless Rule.

Most of that timber cannot be recovered without developing roads into highly sensitive areas where such roads would be inappropriate and create environmental problems.

As it prepares a feasibility study for its biomass project. Evergreen Clean Energy will have to offer more details on how much beetle-killed timber it will need and where it proposes to obtain that timber.


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