Saturday, October 6, 2012

Arundo – Your Turn to Comment

Do you see giant reed (Arundo) as a promising source of green energy or a threat to Oregon’s environment? It is your turn to weigh in. Public comments are now being accepted on the Oregon Department of Agriculture's (ODA) proposed regulation for Arundo. We need your input to get this right because what happens in Oregon over the next few years could impact the state for decades, even centuries to come. In fact, it could have worldwide ramifications. This is a big deal.

Portland General Electric (PGE) is proposing to use giant reed as a replacement fuel for their Boardman power plant after 2020 when coal is no longer an option. It is an interesting idea. From a green, sustainable energy point of view, it’s a winner. Arundo grows fast and produces as much as twenty tons of biomass/acre/year. That’s attractive if you’re in the biofuel business, but there is a potential down side. Arundo is also a serious noxious weed. In fact, it is considered one of the worst invasive species worldwide.
ODA is walking a tightrope. We’d love to see a source of homegrown, carbon-neutral energy, but we’d hate to be complicit in the introduction of a new noxious weed. So we’re proposing a regulation to allow biofuel production while minimizing the risk of escape. Here is a summary of what the regulation would do:

  • Allow Arundo for biofuel under permit.
  • Prohibit Arundo in floodplains.
  • Growers/companies would pay a $2.00/acre/year assessment to cover the cost of monitoring.
  • A $100/acre bond, up to $1 million, would be required to cover eradication, if needed.
  • Wild-type Arundo would be phased out of the nursery industry. Variegated varieties would be allowed unless the State Weed Board declares Arundo a noxious weed.
I toured several of the Arundo trials near Boardman in late September. Compared to last year, the plants have grown a lot. They look like very tall corn. In the better fields, the Arundo is 15 feet tall and the stems are getting dense enough that that it isn’t easy to walk through the fields. Other plots are still sparse and choked with weeds. There is no evidence of plants spreading outside the irrigated fields, and there were no flowers or seeds.

Theoretically there should be a zone outside Arundo’s potential range where you can grow it with irrigation, fertilizer, and suppression of competition, but it won’t thrive and spread on it’s own. The evidence available today suggests Boardman is in that zone. Much of the rest of Oregon might be also. Riparian areas would be the exception.

The success or failure of this project for PGE is likely to hinge on economics and the availability of irrigated land. We wish them well and hope that our proposed regulations are not a significant impediment. ODA’s bottom line is to keep Arundo from becoming a noxious weed.

If this experiment works, Arundo would be an excellent complement to wind energy, and Oregon would be taking a huge step toward the use of clean, renewable energy. If Arundo doesn’t pan out and hasn’t become a weed -- oh well, it was worth a try. The only scenario we need to avoid is that it escapes and invades our riparian areas. Working together, we should be able to prevent that from happening. Help us get this right.

Check out the proposed rules at: Let us know if you think they would do what we need to protect Oregon. Comments can be submitted via email to: until November 9, or you can come to one of the hearings and present your testimony in person (Oct. 30, 11:00 AM in Salem or Oct. 31, 4:00 PM in Hermiston). Or just post your comments below. We’re listening.

Dan Hilburn