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Nonprofit Trying To Use Beetle-Infested Timber

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Beetle-killed trees (credit: CBS)

Beetle-killed trees (credit: CBS)

FRISCO, Colo. (AP) – Rich Dziomba, director of nonprofit organization Blue Knight Group, has a vision of turning dead trees from the bark beetle epidemic into biomass projects that would create sustainable energy.

“In my mind there is a perfect model for utilizing fallen and dead trees affected by the bark-beetle epidemic,” Dziomba said. “We’re creating sustainable energy through biomass and not putting a huge demand on the Forest Service.”

The Blue Knight Group is working with local businesses in converting energy sources into running off biomass fuel. The fuel comes from woods chips and pellets of timber that are burned in broilers.

“A biomass broiler burns wood chips and pellets to create heat and power,” Dziomba said. “A school in Fairplay has a biomass broiler system that uses one ton of lumber a day to heat 250,000 square feet of space.”

Dziomba, who is on the board for the Forest Health Task Force, a planning commissioner for Ten Mile and the last director of the Colorado Beetle Kill Trade Association, said that biomass is the most environmentally friendly and efficient way to utilize the excessive dead trees in Summit County.

Not only do beetle-killed trees serve as an inventory for biomass projects, the fallen and dead timber is a liability to forest health and the safety of people.

“The forest has always been managed as if it were an asset,” Dziomba said. “Now it’s starting to occur to people that though it is still an asset, a great part of it is a liability. Dead trees present a threat for fire danger and trees that have fallen could hurt someone. We need to be proactive in clearing beetle-kill areas.”

The Blue Knight Group is conducting feasibility studies at Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin. The proposed projects would use biomass broilers to create sustainable energy in currently inefficient buildings.

Making his vision a reality is proving to be difficult.

Since there are no milling centers or logging companies removing beetle-kill lumber from the forests locally in Summit County, the cost of transportation burdens the effort.

“The farther a site is away from a mill, the less likely it will be to make that economical, and that’s what we’re facing in Summit County,” said Howard Hallman, president of the Forest Health Task Force. “There is not a place to store this timber that is within a reasonable distance. The transportation costs keep it from being profitable.”

Such projects can be feasible, Hallman said.

“You need to have a number of smaller processing facilities closer to where the wood is being cut,” Hallman said. “A great deal of monetary flexibility is required – often it takes millions to get something started. No one will cut lumber and transport it if they’re losing money.”

In a statement, U.S. Energy Secretary Ed Davey said that solar and biomass “will play an important role in boosting our energy security and tackling climate change.”

“Biomass has the potential to provide a significant amount of renewable electricity in this decade and beyond,” Davey said. “We’re committed in ensuring that the use of biomass power is sustainable both for the environment, and for the consumer.”

- By PAIGE BLANKENBUEHLER, Summit Daily News

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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