Removing ladder fuel will reduce wildfires |

Removing ladder fuel will reduce wildfires

Uncontrollable and catastrophic wildfires are occurring in California and elsewhere in the West. It is well recognized that an over accumulation of vegetative undergrowth (ladder fuel) is the major contributor and should be removed.

This growth is removed by (1) prescribed (controlled) burns, or (2) mechanical methods (chain saws, bundlers, etc.). Controlled burns carry the risk of loss of control, contribute to air pollution and cannot be done in areas near homes or where the ladder fuel is excessive.

Mechanical removal involves cutting down small trees and brush (biomass) and when converted to chip form, this material (stored solar energy) can be transported and converted to other forms of energy (e.g., electricity and ethanol).

Two economic hurdles presently confront this forest fuel chip conversation to electricity: (1) transportation of the fuel to distant generating facilities and (2) efficiency of energy conversion.

However, new, less costly technologies for “chips to electricity” are at the development and demonstration stage, e.g., the SEDD Washington Ridge Bioenergy Demonstration Project. These new technologies involve smaller high efficiency generating units located close to the fuel source.

Photovoltaic, wind turbines, and fuel cell installations all receive state subsidies of up to 50 percent of installed costs.

Considering the potential additional advantages of forest biomass fuel to electricity process (e.g., reduced wildfire, 24/7 base load generation, long-term employment), at least equal funding amounts should be easy to justify.

Because of concern resulting from these massive forest fires in the West, and also the desire to significantly increase renewable energy sources, state and Federal funding will increase. Our county Board of Supervisors could lead the way for us and other forested counties (e.g., RCRC) to diligently search for funds to subsidize forest biomass energy conversation (short term) and to contribute to these types of R&D efforts (longer term).

Nevada County has two renewable resources, one realized (hydroelectric) and one potential (forest biomass).

Increased removal of ladder fuel is urgent, especially the creation of identified fire breaks for communities at risk.

Jack Lawson

Nevada City

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