By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES -- Biomass proponents said Clallam County forests can sustain a proposed cogeneration plant at the Nippon paper mill and then some.
Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. plans to generate 20 megawatts of electricity -- and heat for its Port Angeles mill -- by burning wood waste from logging sites and sawmills to produce steam and electricity.
"We have a ton of biomass," said Tom Swanson of the North Olympic Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, who spoke at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday at the Port Angeles CrabHouse Restaurant.
"Let's put it to use. Forest residual biomass recovery is economically viable, it's ecologically sustainable and carbon neutral."
Swanson, of Green Crow of Port Angeles, said 65 percent of the total land base in Clallam County will have no biomass harvest.
Forest biomass -- also known as hog fuel -- comes in the form of wood chips, bark, sawdust and residual logging slash. It is measured in bone dry tons, which contains about the same amount of energy of a barrel of oil.
"This is Shangri-La for a forester and Shangri-La for outdoor people," Swanson said.
"We live in a very, very resource-rich area of the country, and I hope we wake up every morning and appreciate that."
Also representing the Society of American Foresters was Harry Bell. Bell also is on the staff of Green Crow.
"The message is, wood is good," Bell told the audience of about 80.
But seven environmental groups that have appealed Nippon's shoreline management permit have said biomass cogeneration will deplete the forests of organic material and pollute the air.
Swanson countered by saying biomass cogeneration is carbon-neutral.
"We really have been removing biomass as long as they've been harvesting timber through forest fires and natural rotting and such," Swanson said
"Whether you let it rot, you burn it or you use it, the end result is it's oxidized and it goes into the atmosphere and so it doesn't really make any difference."
Asked if the proposed Nippon project would deplete the supply of biomass material for other projects, Swanson said the question is "unanswerable at this point."
"The first movers [Nippon] will have plenty of fuel," Swanson said.
A five-county study will determine if a second facility would have enough biomass to burn.
"I'd be surprised if there was room for another one of this size," Swanson said.
The speakers said the biomass projects in Port Angeles and at Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill would use about half the available biomass that exists in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Swanson said 21 percent of forest biomass in Clallam County is recoverable. About half of it is in log form.
"We're not out raking the forest of every last twig and branch," Swanson said.
He said Clallam County can support the sustainable harvest of 120,000 to 160,000 bone dry tons of biomass per year.
About half the total land area in Clallam County is active timberland.
Olympic National Park takes up about 28 percent of the land. Olympic National Forest, which has limited timber harvesting, takes up another 17 percent.
Private forest ownership accounts for a quarter of the area, and the state Department of Natural Resources owns about 14 percent of land in Clallam.
Bell cited studies near Shelton, Centralia and Molalla, Ore., that showed biomass harvests did not hurt forest productivity over the first eight years.
"I've talked to the researchers, and they're saying it's still the same after 11 years," Bell said.
"This would indicate that at least in the short term, there's not a major thing going on in terms of site productivity and reduced future tree growth."
Bell cited additional research that shows that wood has a lower carbon emissions than other building materials.
"The message here is wood, as a substitute for steel and concrete, saves a lot of emissions that it take to create the steel and concrete," Bell said.
"If you use wood versus concrete and steel, you avoid the emission of enormous amounts of carbon through less substitution."
The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce has publicly endorsed Nippon's proposed cogeneration plant.
Swanson said it takes about 100 gallons of diesel fuel to produce a truckload of biomass.
"That same truckload of biomass has the same heat value as 2,000 gallons of diesel," he said.
"So it's a 20-to-1 benefit."
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.