Biomass or carbon trading or something else?

To get an idea of why big timber growers might find biomass attractive, here’s an article by Terry Dickson in the Florida Times-Union from 20 June 2005, State’s forestry industry in an ‘alarming decline’
People have long debated whether there is a sound if a tree falls in a forest but nobody is there to hear it.

The fall of revenue from Georgia’s forestry industry, however, has attracted a lot of attention — but $10 billion is hard to ignore.

Georgia Tech economic output studies showed that forestry’s value to the state’s economy declined from $30.5 billion in 2001 to $20.2 billion in 2003.

“Quite an alarming decline,” said Steve McWilliams, executive vice president of the Georgia Forestry Association.

Alarming enough for the Georgia legislature to empanel the 22-member Future of Forestry Study Committee, which met in Valdosta last week. If it finds the need for corrective legislation, the committee is to make its recommendation by year’s end, in time for next year’s General Assembly to take action.

The article goes on to give the main reasons as foreign competition and development around Atlanta and on the coast. This was before the big economic downturn, which saw timber prices drop. The foreign competition is partly from eucalyptus trees grown in South America, which has led to another forestry issue, Bioengineered Eucalyptus to Replace Pine Trees? The bioengineering is to keep the eucalyptus from reproducing naturally. How exactly that’s supposed to work reliably if many thousands of acres of such trees get planted in Georgia is not clear. Plus they’d be a greater fire risk. And they grow faster by using more water, which is not something we need on top of the Floridian Aquifer.

So the forestry industry in Georgia is seeking new markets. To quote Wesley Langdale from September 2001 2010:

“My name is Wesley Langdale. I am the Chairman of the Board of the Georgia Forestry Commission, a member of the board of the Georgia Forestry Association, and President of the Langdale Company….”

“What will be the new markets for trees in the coming decades? We can only begin to imagine the possiblities that lie ahead. Today we’re seeing the beginning of the next emerging market for the forest. Georgia’s timber harvests produce an average of six million green tons of logging residues annually. Much of this can be collected to produce bioenergy. Already we are turning biomass from the forest floor and residue from forest product manufacturing into energy to more efficiently power our manufacturing facilities.

“Georgia is a leader in the emerging bioenergy industry. We rank third in the nation for potential biomass energy. Georgia has more than $2 billion worth of active renewable energy-related projects that are projected to drive nearly $5 billion dollars into the state’s economy over the next 10 years — and add an additional 2,000 jobs within the new facilities and forestry operations to support them by 2015.”

However, since then, there has since been this year’s research showing that Georgia forests worth more standing than incinerated, to the tune of $37 billion annually for essential ecosytem services vs. $28 billion from the traditional wood products industry. That research was announced with great fanfare, and the VDT quoted Wesley Langdale, saying among other things:

“We know that the forests have to be in place to recharge the aquifer….”
The Langdale Company, of which Wesley Langdale is the CEO, is the largest private landowner east of the Mississippi; it is headquartered in Valdosta, Georgia. As another Langdale puts it:
“The Langdale Company is the largest fully integrated, privately held forest products company east of the Mississippi River.”

Langdale was participating in the announcement as Chairman of the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), which is the official state agency for forestry.

Langdale remarked that the study was commissioned by the Georgia Forestry Foundation, whose website is part of that of the private organization Georgia Forestry Association (GFA), of which Wesley Langdale is a board member. (As I have remarked before, I grow pine trees and I’m a member of GFA.)

We already knew The Jobs are in the Trees: Reforestation. That’s twice as many jobs as for biomass.

And since then we’ve seen that carbon trading could be big business in Georgia. Power companies can pay forest owners to keep land in forests. That’s not as good as getting rid of coal plants, but it’s better than having both coal plants and deforestation.

Wesley Langdale also said in September 2010:

“And Georgia’s working forest contributes to our state’s economic development in another important way: Georgia needs clean air and clean water to continue to attract businesses to our state.

“Georgia’s working forest is a giant air-and water-cleaning machine. Trees have been called the lungs of the planet. They breate in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and make carbohydrates that are used for plant growth. And they breathe out oxygen. Trees also help create rain, drawing water from the soil and returning it to the air — cleaning it in the process. Two out of every three raindrops that fall on our state are filtered by the forests.”

There are other things big timber owners can do than biomass, and the biggest timber owner of all was instrumental in commissioning a study that demonstrates that. We’ll see what they decide to do after Adage backed out of Florida.


Update 10AM 20 March 2010: fixed typos, added source for rank of The Langdale Company.