Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

March 24, 2009
Wood Power - Why Not Here?
A new article in Science magazine (March 13, 2009, Vol. 323) points out that highly-efficient wood-fired power plants are booming across eco-friendly Europe. 
"Europe's thousands of of new community-scale advanced wood combustion facilities clearly demonstrate that, with public backing, (wood-fueled power) can be rapidly implemented, can reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions and can increase energy security," the article says. 
But here in California, where forests are unnaturally dense and could help fuel a wood-power revolution, wood-fired power plants are scarce. 
Just yesterday, in fact, Sierra Pacific Industries announced it was shutting down a wood-fueled plant in Sonora, along with two sawmills in Sonora and Camino. The company citied a poor timber market, environmental litigation and state regulatory burdens as the reasons for the closures. More than 300 workers will be affected. 
But if Europe can make wood power work, why can't we? The Duke University-led team  that wrote the Science article clearly hopes wood power can play a bigger role in the United States. And they believe that - with careful monitoring - it can be done sustainably and offer social, economic and environmental benefits. 
"Wood energy economics are generally more favorable in North America than in Europe and it is ironic that advanced wood combustion was initiated in Europe," they write.
And they add: "Considering the controversial plans to expand the nation's nuclear capacity, how can we not ask about the future potential of wood energy, especially if the nation were to target its development not only in forests and woodlands, but on low-productivity agricultural lands and in cities?"
The article is available online only to subscribers of Science. But a press release about it can be found at: http://news.duke.edu/2009/03/wood_energy.html

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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at tknudson@sacbee.com.

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