A Cautionary Tale

By Rona Johnson
Now that the presidential election is over, we can finally get back to business. I just hope President-elect Barack Obama understands how important biomass is to this country's energy future. Yes, gas prices are down for the time being, but we shouldn't forget the pain everyone suffered when crude oil soared to more than $100 a barrel because it will probably happen again.

Speaking of pain, one of the features in this month's magazine, called "Reinventing the Mill," is about the pulp and paper industry. The story details how the pulp and paper industry has been pounded by high energy costs, low-priced imports and the weak economy. To make matters worse, wood prices have increased in response to high energy costs.

This should remind all of us that the biomass industry needs to proceed with caution. I am a firm believer in making good use of all of our biomass resources, but we need to be careful not to put those resources in jeopardy or drive the prices up so high that fossil fuels look like a bargain.

Although I don't have any profound ideas on how to avoid such situations, I'm sure there are intelligent people out there who have more economic sense. As I've often told people, I'm a journalist, not a rocket scientist, mathematician or economist.

Although the "Reinventing the Mill" feature seems grim, there is a silver lining. Pulp and paper mills have the potential to become biorefineries, which would allow them to produce a variety of products, including biofuels, and to offset input costs by producing electricity.

As you read the feature, pay particular attention to the projects that have received U.S. DOE funding. Our staff writers will be keeping track of these projects as they progress, and hopefully they will be successful and serve as a model for others.

Rona Johnson
Features Editor