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Jay O'Laughlin, University of Idaho, jayo@uidaho.edu (Presenter)

 

Renewable energy sources provided eight percent of the energy our nation consumed in 2010. Biomass accounted for half of that, and wood was the largest subcategory of biomass energy (“bioenergy”), followed closely by liquid biofuels—each provided about 2 percent of our total energy needs. We know how to use wood to make energy, and we have been doing it for a long time. We could be doing more of it. Policy objectives for wood bioenergy might include a) reducing fossil energy use and thereby displacing reliance on foreign oil, b) improving forest health and sustainability, in part by creating markets for forestry products, and c) revitalizing rural economies via jobs. Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is another potential objective, but dependent on the accounting stance towards sustainable forestry, which is currently a regulatory uncertainty. Because of inattention to forest health concerns affecting the western states, the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) has called for a cohesive federal policy on using forest biomass for energy production. Specific areas needing improvement are a) the counterproductive multitude of biomass definitions, b) bias towards liquid biofuels, and c) land management policies that make removal of hazardous fuels difficult at the scale needed to improve wildfire resiliency, which in turn limits potential bioenergy feedstock supplies and other benefits from active land management.