It’s not news that California’s dry conditions – both due to the drought and increasing heat – have resulted in an increase in wildfires. Removing small trees and dead wood waste, known as biomass, from our forests is a proven technique to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and can be a great source of renewable energy.
According to the California Biomass Energy Alliance, California biomass plants dispose of an estimated 8 million tons of vegetation waste per year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 million to 3.5 million tons annually. Together, the plants produce 565 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 420,000 homes. A recent infusion of funding from grant programs will help California to build more biomass energy plants and conduct research to find ways to improve and expand the industry in the state.
In Humboldt County, Humboldt State University received a grant for $5.88 million from the Biomass Research and Development Initiative created by the Department of Energy and the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant will allow research teams comprising investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and private-sector partners to address technical challenges and make bioenergy technologies more marketable. The three research areas will be feedstock (processed forest residues) supply, mobile conversion technologies, and economic life-cycle analysis.
Another infusion of funding to help spur the biomass energy industry comes from the California Energy Commission. The Commission awarded a $2.6 million grant to the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment to construct a biomass plant in Quincy. The plant, which should be operational next year, will provide heat for dorm rooms at Feather River College and will provide electricity and heat at the health and human services building.
Mono County will also construct a biomass power plant with the help of a grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. California’s Mono County thermal biomass project is one of three ventures awarded funding through the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Grant Program. The project received $215,000 to remove and replace the current propane boiler system at the County Road Shop and Parks/Facilities with a new thermal biomass boiler system.
These new grants and funds are a great start help expand biomass energy infrastructure in California while we work to develop new biomass opportunities and level the playing field among renewable energy resources. Each project brings the state closer to its renewable energy portfolio goals, safeguards the environment from the threat of wildfire, and generates new green job opportunities.