PRICE COUNTY FOREST CARBON OFFSET PROJECT: TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE OR THE REAL DEAL?


Note:  Find an UPDATE from 12/15/2021 at end of this article.

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Date Published:  December 3, 2021

According to the informational meeting at the courthouse on the early evening of Thursday, December 2, 2021, it was suggested that the board is divided on whether the forest carbon offset project is too good to be true or a great deal for the county. Based on the questions and comments at the meeting, the public is likely divided, as well.

According to information presented at the meeting, Bluesource is a marketing broker company headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have been in business for 20 years and are the oldest carbon offset company in North America and have offices in the United States and Canada. They currently have over 70 forest carbon projects that they are managing. This company is one of the few that take on large projects. Price County, having 92,000 acres of forests, is considered a large project.

As a carbon offset broker, Bluesource locates properties that are attractive to their end goal of selling carbon credits. Each carbon credit receives a unique serial number, which is tracked by another agency, American Carbon Registry (ACR). To help explain how each party works, Nick Trimner, Price County administrator, stated Blue Source will "do all the work for us." They work with large companies that voluntarily want to offset their carbon use. Some companies they work with include Microsoft and Chevy. Nick added that those large companies are where the county could find "prime dollars for credits." He further explained ACR's role, stating they are like the DMV in terms of tracking the carbon credits. The contract with Bluesource would be for ten years and then could be renewed with Bluesource or the county could find another broker to work with for the remaining time. The carbon offset project would be in place for 40 years regardless of which company is selected as the broker.

Bluesource first contacted Price County about the carbon offset project at a meeting in Bayfield on February 25, 2021. On April 2, 2021, Joe Grapa, the county forest administrator and Nick Trimner received and reviewed a summary project proposal. The first open meeting regarding this topic was on April 6, 2021 and has been discussed at nine additional committee, executive, and board meetings since then, including a presentation by Bluesource on June 11, 2021 which was the first county board meeting where this project was discussed.

At Thursday night's informational meeting, Nick shared that the county has consulted with Michael Best, a law firm in Madison, and the county has received consultation from their associate, Taylor. He also stated the use of county forest land will remain the same. Hunting, hiking, powersports, public access, harvesting, and all current use will not change. The contract would not stop Price County from continuing its current harvesting practices. The same amount of cuttable acres will continue to be marketed as in the past. However, the landowner obligations given by Bluesource and ACR are that harvesting cannot exceed growth, which is the current situation. Also, certifications must be maintained, and there are monitoring obligations. The monitoring obligations include every five years there needs to be a verification that there hasn't been an overcut, every ten years an inventory needs to be taken, annually there are reporting requirements, and the monitoring period is 40 years. Surveys would be taken by a local company instead of someone from far away. Of course, the requirements do impose expenses.

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Along with those expenses, Nick explained the buffer pool, which is an insurance policy. Four percent of the carbon credits go into this insurance policy so if the forest would be ruined by fire, tornado, or some other act, the county would be protected. Every time a credit is bought, 4% of that credit is taken as an insurance premium. To be able to get this percentage insurance rather than an insurance cost of $40,000 or $50,000 as a lump sum each year, Bluesource says the county must sign up by January 1, 2022.

Tammy Hastings, in attendance at the meeting, said a lot of this information is confusing and was concerned the project decision was getting rushed. She asked if this could be a referendum that the citizens vote on. County Board Chair Bob Kopisch replied, "I don't think we need to do a referendum, and part of the reason is just what you are talking about here, is getting people to understand what it is we're talking about. That is the difficulty with it." When asked if the board had difficulty understanding it, Bob replied, "I guess you'd have to ask the board members. I believe we had quite a bit of discussion on it. I know we have differences of opinion, but as far as whether it has been difficult to understand, I think at this point I would expect everybody pretty much understands what we are talking about."

After looking over information for weeks, Tammy said she can see some benefits to the project. "Those benefits seem to be all financial for the county. It doesn't really seem to take into consideration the forests." She reiterated she'd love to see it go to a referendum so the people could have a say.

Dale Houdek, also in attendance, agreed with Tammy's point about rushing. He mentioned the infrastructure bill that was recently passed has a lot of money set aside for environmental initiatives and he felt one of those initiatives could cover something like what this type of project is covering. "There is going to be a lot of federal dollars potentially coming out for these areas. I believe that down the line these companies are going to be paying a whole lot more than what they are offering now. In my personal opinion, the reason they are trying to rush this right now is they know this." "I think your question is 'Why don't we wait?'" Bob Kopisch added in reply to Dale. Later, Tammy said she feels that, "Any decision made in haste is usually not a wise decision."

"If it goes up, we get more. We're not locked in," Nick explained, stating Bluesource's goal is also to get as much as they can for each carbon credit because they get a 25% commission on the net price they sell it for. Nick said he is also suggesting the county set aside one million dollars in case the county wants to buy back the carbon credits and get out of the project.

According to Nick, the Michigan DNR is in this program, and they told him it is going well. In our more immediate area, the counties of Oneida, Sawyer, Douglas, Burnett, plus about eleven other counties are entertaining the idea of entering this type of carbon offset project. Since June 2021, Washburn, Rusk, and Iron Counties have entered the project. Nick said companies like Bluesource are interested in places like Price County because we are a "low hanging fruit." He explained, "We were already doing what this program will pay us to do," because we manage our forest rather than clear cut or develop them. "We want to maintain a healthy forest," Nick added.

A woman who called in to listen to the meeting via phone stated, "The definition of a carbon credit, which people don't really understand, is a certificate or permit that grants owners the legal right to emit one metric ton of carbon dioxide. So this seems a little bit like doing a dance with the devil. If we are very environmentally sound and concerned, why would be enter or even consider something like this?" Nick explained the certificate she was referring to is the serial number of the carbon credit.

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A man on another line agreed with the woman caller but also saw another side, stating, "There's millions of dollars out there that's going to other places.....What do you do? Let the money pass? Because somebody else is going to grab it. So, I think it's an opportunity....It's managed well from the sound of it."

Another man on the phone, who stated he is a CPA, fears it is a sham and that the county does not understand the details of the contract, though the contract has not been seen by the county board yet.

Bob stated that the county is not broke. "This is a revenue source." Nick explained that Bluesource would need to do an inventory once contracted to make sure Price County is a feasible location. From the time of signing the contract to seeing revenue from the project would take about 18 months.

The board has not seen the contract yet but will review it at the executive committee meeting on December 9, 2021. There is also a board meeting on December 14, 2021.

UPDATE:  12-14-21 - CARBON OFFSET PROJECT MEETING AND CONTRACT INQUIRY

A number of residents have asked us about the contract the county is looking at with Bluesource regarding the possible carbon offset project in Price County. When asked if the public can view the document, County Administrator Nick Trimner stated, "The contract is still being negotiated and is not considered a public document. Once the executive committee and board review and finish negotiating, then it will become a public document." He said he is unsure at this time when the contract will be brought into an open meeting for discussion. Nick continued, "If the county board votes to proceed, that doesn't mean we will just sign the contract and be done. If there is anything in the contract that we don't agree with, we will not sign."

There is a county board meeting today, Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 9 a.m. at the courthouse. The board is set to go into closed session to negotiate a potential contract with Bluesource for the carbon offset project.

Another big topic in the county, the possible purchase of the fairgrounds, may also be discussed at the meeting.

Members of the public may access all public meetings via appointment or conference call. The conference call number is 1-408-418-9388. The conference code is 2480 856 7420.

UPDATE:  12/15/2021

On December 14, 2021, the county board held a meeting.  Supervisor Strobl presented a letter from the Town of Kennan in opposition of the Forest Carbon Offset.  Supervisor Houdek received communications from the Town of Hackett, Town of Emery, and Town of Spirit, and Supervisor Barkstrom received communication from the Town of Hackett, all in opposition to the carbon offset credit project.  Ultimately, the board voted to adopt the resolution to move forward with a possible contract with BlueSource.  The vote was seven "yes" votes by Barkstrom, Erickson, Hallstrand, Kopisch, Kyle, Palecek, Wartgow and five "no" votes by Ernst, Houdek, Madsen, Spacek, and Strobl.
(This post was last modified: 01-14-2022, 02:26 AM by My Northern Wisconsin.)