CARBONDALE — The Roaring Fork Valley lies close to abundant coal and gas fuel sources. But wood is the fuel that has a local consortium — and a state senator — fired up as an energy source that also would aid Colorado’s ailing forests.
A Roaring Fork Valley consortium found through a two-year study that there is plenty of wood in the form of drought- and beetle-killed pine, fire-stoking brush, aged aspen and construction scraps to make it a feasible adjunct to traditional fossil-fuel energy sources. Burning wood for fuel also is viewed as a potentially important part of saving the state from a conflagration like the one that ravaged Arizona forests this summer.
The Roaring Fork Biomass Consortium took the lead on the issue this week by releasing its study, which included trips to Europe to inspect biomass heating systems there and detailed analysis of the carbon footprint of trucks that would be needed to haul wood from forests in the valley.
The consortium also held a bio-mass “summit” Wednesday that brought together experts from across the state and from the East Coast, where a biomass project at Middlebury College in Vermont is looked at as an example for what might be done in Colorado.
State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said using wood to generate heat is more than an environmental dream. “This is not just another nice renewable thing to do. Colorado needs this,” she said.
Schwartz sponsored forest-health legislation in the last legislative session that created a working group to look at Colorado’s ailing forests and at solutions, such as reducing the amount of dead or diseased wood by using it as a fuel source.
She said that, so far, the forest problem has been looked at piecemeal on a statewide level — not comprehensively as the Roaring Fork consortium is doing.
White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Wednesday’s gathering that his agency has plenty of forest available for the collection of woody biomass but noted it would be a byproduct of forest restoration — not the object of such a project.
Like Schwartz, Fitzwilliams stressed the importance of promoting biomass now.
“I think we have a moral obligation to do this,” he said.
One biomass project already is in the planning stages for nearby Eagle County. Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC is focusing on Gypsum as the site for a $46 million biomass plant that annually would consume 1,200 acres of wood — mainly waste such as branches, thinnings and dead trees. The Forest Service routinely stacks such materials in slash piles and then burns them.
Holy Cross Energy is on board with this project, which is projected to be operational in 2013. The company has committed to buying power for customers who are demanding that some of their power come from renewable sources, said Holy Cross chief executive Del Worley.
Consortium speakers did point out that Colorado faces some drawbacks in moving into woody biomass power. The timber in Colorado is dry because of the climate and thus burns faster. And energy costs are lower in an oil- and gas-rich state, so the savings from using biomass would not be as large as in other places.
Schwartz said she will be working on further legislation that will remove governmental obstacles to creating biomass facilities.