Oct 14, 2004. Using forest ingrowth to fuel small co-gen plants. A submission to the BC Government's pre-budget consultation committee.
October 14, 2004
Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Via email to: FinanceCommittee@leg.bc.ca
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Proposal to Develop an Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Method to Manage Forest Ingrowth in the Rocky Mountain Trench
Our proposal is a modest one that requires only a tiny fraction of British Columbia’s projected 2004-05 budget surplus of $865 million. Small expenditures in critical areas can produce significant benefits, however, particularly in rural areas such as ours where people are accustomed to finding their own solutions to the economic, environmental and social problems that may confront them. This proposal has strong potential to support implementation of recommendations for reducing wildfire risk in communities (Firestorm 2003 Provincial Review, Hon. Gary Filmon, 2004).
We propose that the BC Government provide seed money for developing an economic model for managing forest ingrowth in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Funding is required for two studies:
(1) examination and analysis of the feasibility of establishing community-based wood-fuelled power generation in southeastern BC, and
(2) examination and analysis of the issues involved in securing a stable long-term local supply of wood fibre for such power generation.
If community-based wood-burning power generation is feasible, significant economic, environmental and social benefits follow:
(1) the grassland-open forest ecosystem of the Rocky Mountain Trench is restored to sufficient productivity to meet the demands placed on it;
(2) the urban-wildland interface fire risk to communities is substantially reduced;
(3) both (1) and (2) are achieved at little or no net cost;
(4) timber of marginal commercial value is utilized to create jobs and produce low-emission energy; and
(5) revenue is generated for re-investment in the region.
The Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society (the Trench Society) is a coalition of hunters, ranchers and environmentalists working together to restore the grasslands and open forests of the Rocky Mountain Trench.
Trench grasslands and open forests are disappearing because of forest ingrowth -- the result of 60 years of wildfire prevention -- and forest management emphasis on sawlog production. Suppressing wildfire has disrupted the frequent cycles of low-intensity fire that kept forest ingrowth in check. This interference with the fire-maintained ecosystem of the Trench has produced many thousands of hectares of dense stagnant thickets of lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine.
The pressing need to halt the advance of forest ingrowth convinced eight diverse organizations to join forces and work collaboratively on a plan of action. The Trench Society was formed in 1996 and our member organizations -- Cranbrook Archery Club, East Kootenay Environmental Society, East Kootenay Wildlife Association, Kootenay Livestock Association, Rocky Mountain Naturalists, The Land Conservancy of BC (Kootenay Region), Waldo Stockbreeders Association, Windermere District Farmers Institute & Livestock Association -- have a combined membership of approximately 2800 people.
Our MLAs, Bill Bennett representing East Kootenay and Wendy McMahon in Columbia River-Revelstoke, are well-acquainted with the range of problems arising from forest ingrowth, and your committee has already heard from the Kootenay Livestock Association on the issue (Cranbrook hearing, September 21, 2004).
The solution to managing forest ingrowth on Crown land in the Trench is:
(1) remove the trees that are growing in places where they shouldn’t, and
(2) re-introduce fire to prevent seedlings from re-establishing in those places.
An ecosystem restoration program (A Blueprint for Action, Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Steering Committee, 2000) is making some headway but at current and projected rates of progress, the program can’t keep pace with ingrowth. It is generally recognized that the restoration program needs to be speeded up. Ranchers need more and better forage from Crown range to sustain their operations, hunters and wildlife conservationists want the same to maintain wild ungulate populations, environmentalists want to restore biodiversity and, since the summer of 2003, municipalities are concerned with reducing accumulated fuel loads to manage interface wildfire risk.
Finding a cost-effective and legal way to remove excess trees at effective volumes is the impediment. Costs can be high -- as much as $3,000 per hectare is cited -- and under the existing legislative regime and given current market opportunities, generating offsetting revenue by harvesting even non-merchantable timber under quota to licenced tenure holders is a virtually insurmountable obstacle. Air quality regulations impose further restrictions by limiting opportunities to carry out prescribed burns.
The Trench Society’s proposal for managing forest ingrowth via wood-fuelled power generation has the potential to become a profitable undertaking. With profitability as the motive, managing forest ingrowth shifts from a problem to an opportunity. The model we are proposing to investigate is based on plants located within feasible freighting distance of fuel supply and sized accordingly. Our understanding is that state-of-the-art co-generation technology supports this model. For example, we have knowledge of a co-gen plant being proposed for a community of 1,700 that appears feasible, depending on security of fuel supply.
The existing co-gen plant at Skookumchuck has not emerged as a market for wood fibre harvested for forest rehabilitation purposes such as interface fuel management and grasslands restoration. This may change in the future but opportunities will be limited by distance between fuel source and co-gen plant.
The potential for co-gen has been researched in the past by Forest Renewal BC. What has changed in the interim to justify further exploration of additional co-gen in the Trench? Wood-fuelled power generation technology, particularly in Europe, has advanced to a stage where we believe it can be successfully adapted to our requirements. As mentioned earlier, however, a key component of a successful operation is a stable long-term supply of wood fuel.
We propose the following to test our optimism:
(1) Trench Society establishes an ad hoc committee with a mandate to determine if the proposal is do-able. Participants will include the Trench Society, Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Steering Committee, Kootenay Interface Steering Team, East Kootenay municipalities, Regional District of East Kootenay.
(2) BC Government provides funding for Studies 1 and 2.
(3) Ad hoc committee hires a contractor to undertake Study 1: Wood-fuelled Power Generation.
- Research global state-of-the-art wood-fired power generation technology.
- Examine existing operations for relevancy to Trench requirements.
- Produce financial analysis/business model for one or more theoretical Trench co-gen options.
(4) Based on Study 1, committee determines if a community-based owner-operator model is theoretically feasible, leading to a go/no go decision.
(5) If committee decision is to proceed further, committee hires a contractor to undertake Study 2: Sources of Wood Fibre/Markets.
- Determine that a sufficient long-term supply of wood exists in the Trench to support one or more co-gen plants. (Funding for this portion may be available through the Union of BC Municipalities.)
- Produce an analysis regarding access to wood supply for the model of co-gen plant proposed.
- Identify specific legislative/regulatory obstacles to accessing ingrowth/interface wood.
- Recommend legislative/regulatory changes required to access ingrowth/interface wood as a secure, long-term source of fuel.
- Assess fuel loading in the Trench from Golden to the US border to determine potential volume of wood fibre to be removed.
- Assess the amount of waste fibre produced from current timber harvesting.
- Assess the potential of Tembec as a customer for ingrowth/interface wood for pulp mill chips and/or co-generation plant hog fuel.
- Assess the amount of fibre potentially available from private landowners.
(6) Ad hoc committee uses the findings and recommendations of Studies 1 and 2 to determine if and how a wood-fuelled power generation plant, or plants, could be built in the Rocky Mountain Trench.
Thank you for hearing us out. We believe our proposal builds on the Government’s expressed intention (BC Heartlands Economic Strategy, 2003) to facilitate equal economic opportunities throughout the province, and is worthy of consideration.
Maurice F. Hansen
Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society