Helena city commissioners signed on with Lewis and Clark County commissioners on Thursday to jointly pursue federal funding toward a possible biofuel energy project in the county on Thursday.
The county commissioners said Jan. 27 they would assemble an appropriations request for Montana’s congressional delegation in hopes of securing federal money for a possible project to use local trees to produce local energy.
The city commissioners then accepted a county invitation to join in on pursuing a planning grant for the project on Thursday, citing mutual interests.
The local biofuel project, possibly consisting of some sort of materials production plant and the installation of biomass boilers in certain city-county buildings, would primarily provide a use for millions of trees killed throughout the region by the pine bark beetle infestation.
“We have our own problems with (beetle-damaged trees on) the open lands that we’ve got — not enough to run a plant forever, but we’re interested in disposing of wood,” City Commissioner Paul Cartwright said.
“It makes sense to look at it area-wide. Can it be done? Because we’re all in the same valley whose problems we all suffer and whose benefits we all gain.”
Before completely jumping in, the city commissioners did make sure that the planning grant would include a feasibility assessment, to determine if the area has enough fuel to support the project, and a report on the possible level of air pollution from burning biomass to create heat or energy.
Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg both have previously told the Independent Record they would “absolutely” carry a funding request from the city or county for a biofuel project of some kind. Both the senator and the congressman, as well as city and county officials, have advocated looking into a smaller-scale production, not a full-fledged biomass energy plant.
At the Thursday meeting, though, the group said both Tester’s and Rehberg’s deadline is March 1 for such a proposal, leaving little time to prepare an appropriations request.
“We’ve addressed some of these questions just dealing with the dead wood on city open space,” said Cartwright, who admitted the county was still taking the lead on the proposal. “We’ve looked at how much can you take off without damaging the forest, how much you have to chip, how many dead snags you have to leave.
“I think for the city to go forward in a project like this, it’d have to meet those kinds of standards. We’re not going to mine the forest.”
Aside from possible fuel sources from public lands, the group also discussed recent interest voiced by non-industrial, private land owners as to making their pine bark beetle-damaged wood available to the project.
Trent Makela, Helena Independent Record – http://www.helenair.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_8ef9f962-121e-11df-8dc6-001cc4c03286.html