Congressman Greg Walden today called for specific changes to federal forest and renewable energy policy as a way to replace county timber payments in the future, and create thousands of family wage jobs in rural communities. In a speech to the Prineville Rotary Club, Walden said, "We can't wait until county timber payments run out again to start work on a rescue plan. We need to begin today identifying the roadblocks that prevent us from taking better care of our forests and using the wood waste to create renewable energy and jobs."
After the meeting, Walden participated in a renewable energy roundtable with local officials and representatives from Ochoco Power, which is proposing to launch a new $40 million, 20-megawatt renewable biomass energy facility in Prineville that will create about 125 new local green collar jobs. The company says that one of their main obstacles is the inability to secure long-term fuel supply contracts of at least 20 years from surrounding federal lands for their biomass facility.
"The new Ochoco Power biomass facility is estimated to cost $40 million. Particularly in turbulent economic times like now, when the Dow can drop 800 points in the middle of a single day, after dropping over 700 points a week before, securing financing is harder than ever. And financing doesn't come without a Power Sales Agreement, which doesn't come without a long-term fuel supply contract," said Walden, who is vice chair of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus. "Enough is enough it is high time to do what we can and should in our forests. If we do, our forests' health and air quality will dramatically improve, we'll save billions in fighting unnecessary fire, and central Oregon can lead the country in development of carbon neutral, firm power from woody biomass."
Walden called for changes in federal forest and tax laws. He said Congress should expand the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) to allow federal land managers to solve forest health problems over large landscapes, not just isolated areas and those close to homes.
He called for a 10-year extension of the renewable energy production tax credit for woody biomass and said it should be made equal to other renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal. Currently, energy production from woody biomass only receives half the credit as other renewables.
Walden said work is needed to match long-term energy contracts with an equivalent guarantee of long-term supply of woody biomass from forests so that biomass facilities can generate the capital needed for their construction.
He also said federal law that disallows alternative fuels made from woody biomass from federal forests from counting toward the nation's renewable fuels standard is flawed and should be repealed.
This summer, Walden introduced his bipartisan update legislation to the popular and successful HFRA law. Walden's HFRA II bill would give federal land managers the tools they need to thin those areas of the forest on the verge of combusting into catastrophic wildfire.
"Thinned material from the forest could be used to create jobs in the renewable energy industry, lessen our dependence on foreign fuel, and keep the forests healthy for future generations," Walden said. "It's not that complicated and it's not that hard. It just takes the will in Washington, D.C. to make some commonsense reforms that will help rural communities in the West transition to self-sufficient economies."
Walden, a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, said that these revisions to the forest policy would not only benefit local economies and American energy independence, but the environment as well:
ü About 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year from wildfire in this country, the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.
ü A managed forest will sequester 250 percent more carbon dioxide per acre per year than an unmanaged forest.
ü Biomass energy is carbon neutral, unlike the energy it would likely replace - coal or natural gas.
ü It costs four times as much to fight a forest fire as it does to prevent one by reducing fuel loads.
While Congress finally came through with an extension of the county timber payments program last week, most observers believe that it is unlikely the funding will be renewed after it is ramped down over the next four years. What local communities need to start thinking about, he said, is how they will replace the revenue. Projects like the planned Ochoco Power biomass facility can go a long way to helping local economies, but they need cooperation from the federal government to make it a reality.
"There is opportunity right now for central Oregon and the rest of rural Oregon," Walden said. "We need to act thoughtfully and quickly to make the changes necessary before timber payments run out in four years. We've bought ourselves time to plan out how we replace that revenue once it has run out. And an essential part of that transition is reforming the out-of-date federal policies that just get in the way of local communities, just like Prineville, that want to create new economies and new employment opportunities."
Yesterday, Walden spoke at the dedication of the Klondike Power Project expansion in Wasco, where he called for the 10-year extension of renewable energy tax credits, so companies invested in renewables like wind and solar can also plan for the long term.
On Friday, Walden will speak at the People's Utility District Association (PUD) annual meeting in The Dalles. Since taking office, he has completed 353 round trips between Oregon and Washington, D.C. During the current district work period, he will log over 3,600 miles while participating in over 60 meetings and events in 15 of the 20 counties in Second Congressional District.
Congressman Greg Walden represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and a member of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.