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Burning wood to save West's trees
Energy - Generating electricity creates incentive to thin thick forests.

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Running's employer is seeking an air-quality permit to crank up a gasifier, which transforms chips into fuel that would replace natural gas in heating the Missoula campus. Environmental groups have appealed a decision by the local health department to grant the permit, but backers see it as green energy and a safety measure.

"We sit surrounded by forests in a way Salt Lake doesn't," Running said. "We've had holocaust-level fires where people got burned up."

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Nearby, Darby, Mont., is burning wood chips for school heat, using trees that in another era would have gone to a sawmill or a Missoula-area paperboard mill. Ely, Nev., also has a school participating in "Fuels for Schools," a project land managers hope will catch on in the rural West.

Other opportunities exist for markets that require a component of renewable energy. The Intermountain Power Project plant at Delta has studied adding biomass to its coal feedstock because it supplies power to California, a state that mandates green energy.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's administration has adopted an energy plan that looks to a future of renewables, including biomass. It touts university research collaboration but doesn't deal tax breaks to companies.

"There's not really any incentives - government incentives - to do it in Utah," Page said.

But there is a tremendous supply. The Beehive State boasts 10 million acres of pinyon-juniper forests.


Twitter: @brandonloomis

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