SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado - Officials are brainstorming about how to prevent wildfire among dead trees affected by the bark-beetle epidemic.
Rich Dziomba, director of nonprofit organization Blue Knight Group, has a vision of using dead trees for biomass projects to 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 to convert their energy sources to biomass fuel. The fuel comes from wood 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 also 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 dead trees in Summit County.
"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 and Arapahoe Basin. The proposed projects would use biomass broilers to create sustainable energy in inefficient buildings.
However, with the difficulty of creating infrastructure for such projects, the endeavor is proving to be difficult.
Since there are no milling centers or logging companies removing beetle-kill lumber from the forests in Summit County, the cost of transportation burdens the effort.
"We determined the availability of timber is directly affected by the economic availability," said Howard Hallman, president of the Forest Health Task Force. "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. There is not a place to store this timber that is within a reasonable distance. The transportation costs keep it from being profitable."
Dziomba said that the lack of infrastructure is comparable to a standoff in a poker game.
"We all recognize this problem, and everyone that has a hand in it is waiting for someone else to put down the money," he said. "The worst is yet to come - the trees are dead, and they're going to start falling over. The first tree that falls down on a car going to a ski resort is going to be bad - the lawsuits are going to pop up."
Still, setting up such projects is feasible, if they are economically sustainable, 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."
The U.S. Department of Energy and Climate Change released a statement Friday about stability, certainty and sustainability for solar and biomass.
"Solar and biomass power will play an important role in boosting our energy security and tackling climate change," Energy Secretary Ed Davey said in the release.
Davey released the statement to "provide certainty for investors and pave the way for construction of new plants powered by sustainable biomass," according to the release.
"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."