Biomass and the California Drought
The recent drought in California has had devastating effects on the forest by giving rise to an unprecedented infestation of bark beetles, killing trees by the millions. Today it’s estimated there are nearly 129 million dead trees across the state as a result of this infestation.
In the Central Sierra, stands of Ponderosa Pines have been particularly hard hit by beetle attacks. Under normal conditions, the beetles can actually be beneficial by maintaining the health of the forest. They attack weakened and diseased trees while healthy ones are able to fend them off. The prolonged drought has caused the trees to become stressed due to lack of water and nutrients allowing the insects to overrun the otherwise healthy forest.
Forest Service Photo by Kari Greer
In order to reduce the wildfire hazard posed by these dead trees and to dispose of the millions of trees already removed from the forest, the Sate of California has mandated that utilities buy power from biomass power plants that use these dead and dying trees for a significant portion of their fuel. This mandate was part of a provision in Senate Bill 859, approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Brown on September 14, 2016.
Currently TID has a contract with ARP-Loyalton Cogen LLC to purchase biomass as mandated by this law.
Dead Trees as a result of Bark Beetle infestation.
Photo credit: USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, Central Oregon Insect and Disease Service Center.
These dead trees provide the perfect fuel for devastating wildfires which can burn out of control scorching thousands of acres destroying homes and communities and causing deaths and injuries to residents. The greatest fire risk comes when the trees are dead but still have their needles attached, the so-called “Red and Dead” phase. When the trees succumb to the infestation, their green needles turn reddish brown providing tinder-like fuel for wildfires. Once the dead trees fall to the forest floor, they create piles of dry timber which burn hotter and longer in a wildfire.