Biomass To Energy: Forest Management For Wildfire Reduction, Energy Production, And Other Benefits

Cover of report

Publication Number: CEC-500-2009-080
Report Date: January 2010

Download Full Report
Final Project Report. (PDF file, 141 pages, 3.8 megabytes).


General note on appendices: key terminology evolved throughout the course of this project. Most importantly, what became the Reference Case and the Test Scenario had early iterations that were based on separating Industrial Private Forest (IPF) from Public Multiple Use (PMU), creating a "third" interim scenario in order to analyze the impacts of IPF management apart from the broader landscape. Thus, the following notice has been inserted at the beginning of each Appendix.

Notice of Change in Scenario Naming Conventions

Key assumptions, modeling structures and terminology were altered and refined to accommodate new thinking during the course of this study. The reader will observe in the appendices that the scenarios are referred to as "Scenarios 1, 2 and 3" or "S1, S2 and S3."

In both the main text of the Final Report and in the Life Cycle Assessment appendix (Appendix 4), the former Scenario 1 (S1) was renamed to the "Reference Case." Scenario 3 (S3) has been renamed the "Test Scenario." Scenario 2 (S2), focused on the relative contributions and impact of Industrial Private Forestry (IPF) has been eliminated from most of the analyses that make up the entire study. These changes better reflect the focus of the study, which is fundamentally about the landscape level changes in wildfire, habitat, and other dynamics. The modification of terminology do not substantively affect the findings or recommendations of the study.



The Biomass to Energy project models the costs and benefits of generating electricity from forest thinnings1 over a 40-year period beginning in 2006. The study demonstrates that economic valuation is possible for many, but not all, valued assets2 on the landscape, and that the impacts and costs of forest disturbance (including thinning operations) can be accurately modeled. The study includes a life cycle assessment3 of forest operations4 and energy conversion, measuring three biomass conversion technologies. A test of the model structure was developed on a Northern California forest landscape comprising approximately 2.7 million acres spanning the crest of the Sierra Nevada range and encompassing the Feather River basin. A Reference Case and Test Scenario were developed to test the structure and accuracy of the model using real-life data from Mt. Lassen Power (an existing biomass conversion plant), public and private forestry operations, and historic wildfire ignition patterns. Wildlife habitat impacts and cumulative watershed effects were also modeled. Results of the Test Scenario show that thinning reduces wildfire size and severity - therefore reducing fire-generated greenhouse gas emissions - while producing renewable energy. With appropriate caveats about data resolution and model sensitivity, impacts to wildlife habitat and watershed appeared minimal. The Biomass to Energy project benefits California by contributing to the state's capacity to analyze forest biomass utilization opportunities at the landscape scale.