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Op-Ed: The growing threat of the biomass energy industry

Jenny Blaker, SONOMA COUNTY PEACE PRESS

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Update – good news on legislation!

We need to understand the insidious, growing threat of the biomass energy industry, specifically forest-based bioenergy. Bioenergy turns forests into electricity, liquid biofuels, and fuel pellets for export on the international market. Touted as renewable, it is not clean, renewable or carbon neutral. It is devastating to human health and communities, to forests, watersheds, and wildlife habitat, and only worsens the climate crisis.

Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR) plans to build two massive fuel pellet processing plants in Tuolumne and Lassen counties, targeting 1 million tons of wood pellets per year for export, via the port of Stockton, to Europe and Asia. On June 30, 2023, 109 organizations, including scientists, doctors, environmentalists and others, wrote to GSNR vehemently opposing the project because of its potential impacts to climate, communities, and forests.

On February 28, 2024, GSNR ratified an MOU with the giant UK energy company Drax, the second largest biomass energy company in the world. Drax already runs 18 fuel pellet plants in the USA and Canada. Now it is targeting California, which has 33 million acres of forests.

In a shocking exposé of Drax in October 22, the BBC revealed that Drax is responsible for the destruction of millions of acres of mature and old growth trees in Canada and southeast USA. The company’s assertions that it uses only waste wood were proven to be false. Drax is by far the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK. It is subsidized by UK taxpayers to the tune of around £1.4 billion (about $1.8 billion) in subsidies up until last year.

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PG&E unveils first 100% renewable remote power system at Pepperwood Preserve

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Pepperwood Preserve unveiled the state’s first fully renewable, stand-alone power system at the nonprofit group’s remote site in the Mayacamas Mountains on Monday — part of the utility’s push to eliminate last-mile distribution lines from especially fire-prone areas.

The new remote, solar-powered system is owned by PG&E and will allow the utility to remove nearly three-fourths of a mile of overhead distribution lines that cascade down a wind-swept hillside. It eliminates, as well, the associated maintenance burden and wildfire liability that power lines in mountainous areas represent.

But it also will serve as a replicable model that can be used in hundreds of other locations to reduce first risk and make for a more resilient power supply, project partners said.

It is part of PG&E’s overall system hardening efforts, developed in the wake of catastrophic wildfires caused by faulty power equipment during extreme winds. Other measures include burying power lines and strengthening power poles and overhead lines.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/first-100-renewable-remote-power-system-installed-at-pepperwood-preserve/?pupeml=5144

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After tree trimming declared ineffective, PG&E adopts new wildfire mitigation strategy

Grace Scullion, SACRAMENTO BEE

PG&E Corp. is axing its enhanced tree-trimming program aimed at reducing wildfire risk after deeming it largely ineffective, the Wall Street Journal reported.

PG&E Corp. is axing its enhanced tree-trimming program aimed at reducing wildfire risk after deeming it largely ineffective, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The $2.5 billion program thinned and cleared more than one million trees near power lines across Central and Northern California since it went into effect in 2019, the newspaper said after interviews with executives.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which provides electricity and gas to 16 million across the state, credited the program with reducing total fire ignitions by 7% and ignitions during the fall fire season by 13%.

The embattled utility, which has been blamed for several of California’s worst and deadly wildfires, said it would still trim its backlog of about 385,000 potentially hazardous trees that have yet to be cleared — an effort expected to take nine years.

The Oakland-based company also said it would continue its regular tree-trimming maintenance. Twice per year, the company inspects trees around power lines for hazards. It is also piloting a targeted tree-trim program focused on heavily forested areas of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/after-tree-trimming-declared-ineffective-pge-adopts-new-wildfire-mitigati/

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Board hands down harsher penalty for Felta Creek timber owner’s water quality violations

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Regional regulators raised the total fines for Ken Bareilles in light of the important role of Felta Creek watershed, a last refuge for spawning coho salmon and steelhead trout.

A timber owner whose logging operations fouled the sensitive Felta Creek watershed, allowing sediment to enter the salmon-bearing waterway near Healdsburg over two successive winters, was ordered Friday to pay $276,000 in penalties.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s unanimous decision came as a severe blow to landowner Ken Bareilles, 81, who fought to deflect a proposed $251,000 fine during a 3 1/2-hour hearing only to have the board return with a harsher penalty given the importance of Felta Creek to coho salmon populations and the potential harm resulting from inadequate erosion control.

‘’The whole thing is speculative,” Bareilles argued, challenging what he considered to be weak evidence and chastising water quality personnel for failing to use sensors or gauges to measure the sediment in streams.

Staffers for the water quality board said measurements weren’t required after inspections over a year and a half continued to turn up on-the-ground evidence of absent or failed erosion-control measures that allowed silty water and mud to flow into Felta Creek and nearby tributaries to the Russian River.

“This was the sloppiest operation that I’ve seen on any active timber operation in my career,” veteran board staffer James Burke, a senior engineering geologist, said in presenting evidence against Bareilles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/board-hands-down-harsher-penalty-for-felta-creek-timber-owners-water-quali/

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Rural counties wood pellet export scheme raises concerns

Gary Graham Hughes, THE NORTHCOAST ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER

Over the first months of 2023 Humboldt County has taken on a leadership role in a massive scheme that aims to export wood pellets from California to global bioenergy markets.

In January, Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn, who is the official delegate of Humboldt County to the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), an organization of some 40 rural counties from around the state, was appointed to the Board of Directors of Golden State Natural Resources. The five-person board also includes supervisors from Inyo, Modoc, Siskiyou and Butte Counties.

Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR), an “affiliated entity” of RCRC, is a wood pellet manufacturing and export scheme that proposes to construct two new facilities, one each in Tuolumne and Lassen Counties, to manufacture 1,000,000 tons a year of wood pellets. GSNR would then move those wood pellets by rail to ports in Stockton and Richmond for export by ship to markets in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Increasingly, because of political convenience and carbon accounting loopholes, coal powered electricity generating facilities are converting to burning biomass. This global trend has continued despite the growing body of evidence that shows that wood pellets are a highly carbon-intensive, polluting, expensive, and inefficient energy source.

Even as the imperative to stop burning coal is becoming clearer by the day, the switch to biomass is climate suicide. Per unit of electricity produced, burning wood coughs up more carbon emissions at the smokestack than burning coal.

In fact, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution would be emitted at every step of the GSNR project, exposing this wood pellet export scheme as a losing proposition for the climate.

Cutting forests, trucking trees long distances, chipping the wood, manufacturing pellets, transporting the pellets by rail hundreds of miles to ports, and shipping the pellets to be burned overseas — every single one of these steps would be a significant source of climate pollution.

Read more at https://www.yournec.org/rural-counties-wood-pellet-export-scheme-raises-concerns/

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Land Trust of Napa County agrees to buy controversial Walt Ranch property from Hall Wines

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Attempts by owners Craig and Kathryn Hall to transform the wooded ranch into a vineyard were at the epicenter of a wider battle between open space and grape growing in Napa County.

For more than a decade, the owners of Hall Wines have waged an effort to develop several hundred acres of oak woodland in eastern Napa County into vineyard, a plan that has sparked anger in Wine Country residents and embroiled county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza in an ongoing public controversy.

The dispute came to rest at the epicenter of a wider battle over the future of open space in the North Bay, and the expanding footprint of the region’s famed wine industry.

A potential solution appeared unexpectedly Wednesday, when the Land Trust of Napa County and Hall Wines issued a joint statement announcing the land trust’s intent to buy Walt Ranch, the 2,300-acre property at the heart of the debate.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/land-trust-of-napa-county-agrees-to-buy-controversial-walt-ranch-property-f/

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Satellites detect no real climate benefit from 10 years of forest carbon offsets in California

Shane Coffield and James Randerson, THE CONVERSATION

Many of the companies promising “net-zero” emissions to protect the climate are relying on vast swaths of forests and what are known as carbon offsets to meet that goal.

On paper, carbon offsets appear to balance out a company’s carbon emissions: The company pays to protect trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The company can then claim the absorbed carbon dioxide as an offset that reduces its net impact on the climate.

However, our new satellite analysis reveals what researchers have suspected for years: Forest offsets might not actually be doing much for the climate.

When we looked at satellite tracking of carbon levels and logging activity in California forests, we found that carbon isn’t increasing in the state’s 37 offset project sites any more than in other areas, and timber companies aren’t logging less than they did before.

Read more at https://theconversation.com/satellites-detect-no-real-climate-benefit-from-10-years-of-forest-carbon-offsets-in-california-193943

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Opponents likely headed to court to block newly approved timber operation between Guerneville and Monte Rio

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cal Fire has approved plans for selective logging of redwood and Douglas fir trees on 224 acres above the lower Russian River between Guerneville and Monte Rio, raising the prospect of legal action by opponents who hope they still might prevent the Silver Estates harvest from going forward.

The state agency granted approval late last week after months of public scrutiny, plan revisions and state delays that critics say reflect the proposal’s fundamentally flawed nature.

But in a Nov. 17 letter, Eric Huff, staff chief of Cal Fire’s Forest Practice Program, said the final version — some 500 pages of reports, descriptions, maps and other information — conforms with state Forest Practice Rules. The decision authorizes landowner Roger Burch and his family to carry out its provisions any time over the next five years.

What happens next appears to depend in large part on whether Burch and his representatives decide to begin operations this winter, within the restrictions permitted for the traditional wet weather season.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/opponents-likely-headed-to-court-to-block-newly-approved-timber-operation-b/

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Critics of Jackson Forest logging to hold rally; warn of potential civil disobedience when logging resumes

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Community, environmental and tribal activists opposed to renewed logging in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest plan to rally in the forest Sunday and warn of potential civil disobedience in the future.

The notice comes in response to a Cal Fire announcement that tree cutting would resume as early as this week on at least one of four incomplete timber harvest plans in the Mendocino County forest. Those plans were recently revised to halt removal of the largest trees.

The return of logging crews ends an eight-month pause on tree removal that allowed state officials to start rethinking priorities for the nearly 50,000-acre forest and begin negotiations with local tribes that are seeking co-management rights.

But critics say it’s still too soon to end the pause. They argue that ideas floated in a “vision statement” released last week don’t amount to the updated forest management plan demanded by advocates and promised by Cal Fire.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/critics-of-jackson-forest-logging-to-hold-rally-warn-of-potential-civil-di/

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Logging to restart in Jackson Forest as soon as this week

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just days after releasing a new vision statement reflecting a greater focus on climate mitigation and wildfire prevention at Jackson Demonstration State Forest, Cal Fire announced a nearly eight-month pause on logging in the forest will end.

Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise to environmental advocates, including members of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians who are in the middle of negotiating for co-management rights in the forest.

Four approved timber harvest plans in the state-owned forest were put on hold — one last year and the others over the winter — after public outcry over the removal of large redwood trees. Those plans are expected to recommence in phases before the end of the year, Cal Fire said.

Crews could begin cutting any day in the 737-acre Chamberlain Confluence harvest plan, where they already have spent recent weeks hauling downed logs that were cut and stacked last winter, State Demonstration Forest Manager Kevin Conway said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/logging-to-restart-in-jackson-forest-as-soon-as-this-week/