The Sierra Institute is working to develop and implement a multi-phase project that will produce triple bottom line benefits in Plumas County through advancing woody biomass utilization and by creating a market for small-diameter trees and logging slash. This waste material, often referred to as woody biomass, is one of Plumas County’s most abundant natural resources, and includes leftover debris from logging operations and small diameter trees removed from unhealthy forest stands. Increased utilization of this material can contribute to enhanced ecological, economic, and community well-being.
This work began in 2010 with support from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) cooperative agreement with the Plumas National Forest. During this time, Sierra Institute (in partnership with TSS Consultants) conducted critical assessments of biomass availability and transportation challenges in the Upper Feather River Watershed, performed preliminary market research for woody biomass, and fostered policy support for an emerging small-scale biomass utilization market in the region. A summary of this work can be found here.
Countywide Network of Biomass Heating Systems
Working off findings from the ARRA project, as well as the widespread consensus that our unhealthy forests are in need of restoration and that the local economy would benefit from revitalization of the wood products industry, the Sierra Institute and partners around the county developed the Plumas Energy Efficiency and Renewables Management Action Plan (PEER MAP) with support from the California Energy Commission. The PEER MAP planning process sought to identify, develop, and begin to implement a renewable energy plan for Plumas County focused on utilization of forest biomass. The result was a county-wide plan consisting of a network of biomass boilers at critical institutions with high heat demand, anchored by a chip processing facility based on a wood utilization campus in Crescent Mills.
From Planning to Implementation
Implementation of PEER MAP began in 2015 with the launch of development of a biomass-powered boiler to be located at the Plumas County Health and Human Services building and Feather River College dormitories in Quincy, funded by the California Energy Commission. This facility is projected to save the county a great deal of money in annual heating costs, and the coupling of a biomass boiler with a small-scale power generator will result in an innovative system that will be the first of its kind in California. A system is expected to be online by the late winter of 2017.
Since the development of PEER MAP, Sierra Institute has been working with entities around the county to explore opportunities for converting to biomass heat. Feasibility studies for biomass heating systems have been conducted for schools, hospitals, and government buildings; unfortunately, raising sufficient capital to cover the costs of equipment and installation can be a barrier to implementation.
Why Biomass Heat?
Improvements in technology have allowed for wood-fueled heat and power to provide an affordable and clean alternative to fossil fuels. Sierra Institute is continuing to work with entities around the county to identify avenues for pursuing biomass heat.
Biomass-powered heat presents and opportunity for entities to:
- (1) Save money on heating costs (compared to current fossil fuel-based systems);
- (2) Utilize an abundant and local resource;
- (3) Decrease reliance on fossil fuels;
- (4) Contribute to efforts to create local jobs and reduce the risk of wildfire in forests surrounding our communities; and
- (5) Improve local air quality by reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Indian Valley Wood Products Campus
As a response to declining forest health, high risk of catastrophic wildfire, and poor socioeconomic conditions in a community that has historically had a strong presence of the timber industry, the Sierra Institute is developing a wood utilization campus at an old mill site in Crescent Mills. This campus will consist of a variety of wood utilization technologies that generate value-added products out of small-diameter trees and other woody biomass–this low value material is a byproduct of forest restoration and other harvesting activities.
Potential businesses include a small-scale bioenergy facility, processed wood chips for use in biomass boilers, mass timber production, packaged and dried firewood, soil amendments, and more.
Such a campus will provide direct benefits to communities and forests of Plumas County as it will develop a market for small diameter trees and forest biomass–byproducts of forest restoration activities. Sufficient processing infrastructure and a strengthened market for forest biomass will allow for increased pace and scale of forest restoration activities in Plumas County and the Upper Feather River Watershed. At full build out this campus could generate between 15-30 industry jobs for local residents,
California Energy Commission EPIC Symposium — December 3, 2015
California Energy Commission Workshop on Community Scale Renewables — July 29, 2015 (pdf, 2 MB)
Rural Community Development Initiative: 2016 Workshop — April 5, 2016 (pdf, 726 kb)
PEER MAP Report (Plumas Energy Efficiency and Renewables Management Action Plan), September 2014 (pdf, 538 KB).
Forest Biomass Transport and Value-Added Market Optimization Assessment for the Upper Feather River Watershed by TSS Consultants, March 2012.
Informational pamphlet on Sierra Institute’s biomass work in Plumas County (pdf, 1 MB)
Questions? Contact Camille Swezy, Biomass Program Assistant