Where I Stand: Biomass can provide part of the solution

By Dr. Kermit Jones

Candidate for the 3rd Congressional District

In Northern California, we’re fortunate to live in a place of unparalleled beauty. But every year we are confronted with the ugly truth that our fire seasons are getting longer, the droughts are getting worse, and that the failure to face these challenges head-on may one day take our homes and livelihoods.

Communities across the Sierras are picking up the pieces after the Dixie and Caldor fires destroyed nearly 1.2 million acres. I had the chance to meet and take care of some of our neighbors from Grizzly Flats at a Red Cross Shelter this past September. Some of them had to leave their homes so quickly, they left their medications behind and needed new prescriptions. Many of them were waiting for more than just the fires to pass. They were also waiting for our leaders and representatives to take actions necessary to stabilize forests, woodlands, and other agricultural interests; work desperately needed to reduce the effects of drought. Isn’t that why we elected them?

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Right now, we have the rare opportunity to take the actions we need to ensure the safety of our communities for ourselves and our children.

First, we need to support our professional land managers at the County, State, and Federal levels by providing the tools needed in managing the fuel loads within the 20 million acres of California’s forests that need treatment. This is a necessary investment that will lower the risk of our houses and businesses burning down. And just like any good investment, this one will yield positive future returns in the form of lower fire insurance premiums, maintaining tourist income, and keep our firefighters and first responders from unnecessary risk; all of which are costs of the past years of complacency.

The benefits of proper forest and water management go far beyond wildfire prevention. Where many forest areas are thinned now, much of the fuel is either piled in place and burned or trucked off to a landfill. In other words, it goes to waste. Instead, we could take all of that potential energy from the forest floor and use it to locally power our communities. We currently get our electricity the same way we have gotten it for the past century, carried over hundreds of miles of difficult-to-maintain electrical lines. If this power were to be produced locally instead, it would be more efficient, less costly, safer, sustainable, and provide an economic driver for rural communities—those closest to the lands needing help.

This is where investing in biomass plants could make the difference. These plants take organic material; whether it’s trees, organic garbage and agricultural waste, or yard trimmings, and creates power. Instead of these being left to rot they can help produce sustainable power for our communities. Using these as an energy source for a microgrid system could allow this energy to be distributed locally, so there would always be power, no matter the conditions. It would also dramatically lower the risk of fires sparked by aging long-distance power lines.

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Right now, we have a problem with a solution; but the issue is one of willpower. Are our leaders willing to put in the work to make these necessary changes? Will they do everything they can to prevent any future seasons of destruction? We need a new generation of leaders, ones who will take the actions necessary to keep our communities safe.