One of the potential silver linings in the dark cloud of the ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic – which has ravaged more then 2 million acres of lodgepole pine trees in Colorado and Wyoming – is the possibility of alternative energy in the form of biomass.
Even as Sen. Mark Udall blasts Republicans for blocking key hearings on his bill to free up funds for national forest thinning to reduce wildfire risk, he has supported other uses for all that dead wood – including proposed biomass power plants in places like Vail.
But some conservationists are dubious of the burgeoning industry, which they say will produce at least as many carbon emissions as traditional fuel sources such as coal, while simultaneously reducing the size of national forests capable of absorbing greenhouse gases.
Even as conservationists cheered the revocation of a nearly $30 million state tax credit for a company looking to develop a 35-megawatt biomass power plant in New Mexico, a Colorado consortium is moving forward with a bio-energy research project based in Carbondale.
According to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the focus of the Colorado project, however, would be growing crops such as switchgrass, orchardgrass, alfalfa, wheatgrass, tall fescue and opuntia prickly pear cactus, which grow well in arid, mountainous areas with marginal agricultural value.
Instead of relying on forest waste, the project will explore renewable crops that don’t compete with agricultural land ideal for food production – a criticism of corn ethanol.