By Tony Hyde, Columbia County Commissioner
As a county commissioner for the past 19 years, I have seen an enormous amount of change take place in my community of Columbia County, Ore. In order to preserve the best interests of Columbia County and communities across the state more broadly, I strive to stay at the forefront of developments in areas such as energy policy and frequently I inform fellow elected officials of opportunities that could potentially benefit their constituents in a similar fashion.
I have found that one of the most effective means of sharing this information is through the National Association of Counties, which brings county officials together to advocate with a collective voice on national policy and pursue promising county solutions. To that end, at this year’s NACo Annual Conference & Exposition held on July 22, the association voted to approve a resolution that I submitted in June. The resolution supports the use of wood as a renewable energy source. The development of this environmentally beneficial and reliable resource would provide a number of positive impacts for not only Columbia County but also Oregon at large as well as any regions across the U.S. with plentiful forest resources.
Woody biomass energy, such as wood chips and wood pellets, is a renewable and carbon-reducing fuel source. Wood pellets are formed by heating low-grade wood fiber, wood trimmings, and sawdust sourced from the harvesting process. There is an excess of these materials and they would often otherwise go to waste, if not used in the creation of biomass. This process allows us to use our natural resources more efficiently, generating more output from trees which have already selected for harvest.
Wood energy products promote the ongoing health and sustainability of forests. Biomass harvesting stimulates growth of higher value timber by removing weaker or deformed trees from groves. Over the long-term, thinning operations and reduction of combustible materials will reduce fire danger, lower firefighting costs, and helping restore forests.
Wood pellets help to cut our carbon footprint — there are numerous peer reviewed scientific analyses which have found that the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere during combustion does not exceed the amount of carbon absorbed during a tree’s lifespan. And young trees often absorb carbon at a faster rate than mature trees. As a result, the forests from which the woody biomass is sourced contribute to overall carbon absorption. This energy source both provides and promotes green energy, and will serve as an important step towards achieving a diverse and clean energy portfolio for our country.
Wood pellet production supports many existing forestry jobs and can create entirely new opportunities for the industry. For my home state of Oregon, the industry has tremendous potential. Columbia County alone is 80 percent covered in forestland, and the logging industry provides 3,800 jobs in the region today. With potentially as many as 6.4 million tons of trees too small for lumber available across Oregon over the next 20 years, the potential for growth in woody biomass exports is an exciting prospect.
In recent years, the decline in demand for paper and other products has led to the closure of many timber-processing plants throughout the United States. At the same time, demand for biomass resources in Europe has surged as countries work to meet newly enacted carbon emissions standards. These new markets have contributed to a revival of the forestry industry in the U.S., which has far more timber resources than its counterparts across the Atlantic. This demand has bolstered international trade in communities across the country, spurring foreign investments in shipping facilities in a number of ports across the country.
Government policies hold the power to promote this important energy source. The adoption of my resolution at the 2016 NACo convention demonstrates the association’s widespread support for this renewable, plentiful, and carbon-reducing fuel so I encourage my fellow NACo members and elected officials at all levels, including those here in the federal government, to support the continued development of woody biomass.
Tony Hyde is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Columbia County, Ore., and is a member of the Board of Directors for both the Association of Oregon Counties as well as the National Association of Counties.