The lack of wood and biomass processing infrastructure in the Sierra Nevada is a significant impediment to forest restoration efforts.
We must enhance the Sierra’s forest-related infrastructure if it is to handle the pace and scale of needed restoration. Infrastructure projects are integral to the Watershed Improvement Program because they utilize biomass to provide energy and reduce fire risk. They also help improve local socio-economic conditions. The overall capacity of biomass utilization facilities is significantly less than a decade ago, but opportunities to enhance utilization do exist.
- Maintaining and upgrading existing facilities
- Expanding utilization technologies through state and federal funding programs such as the Electric Program Investment Charge Program (EPIC) and Wood Utilization grants
- Providing incentives for the creation of infrastructure
State policy efforts such as the Bioenergy Action Plan and Senate Bill (SB) 1122 (2012) provide direction on increasing the use of forest biomass for energy production.
More recent developments have increased the momentum for infrastructure:
SB 859: In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will support biomass plants within the state by calling on electricity retailers to enter into five-year contracts for 125 megawatts (MW) of biomass capacity with facilities that generate energy from wood harvested from high-fire-hazard zones.
North Fork Bioenergy Facility: The North Fork Bioenergy Facility project in Madera County aims to successfully develop an economically viable 1 MW bioenergy facility on the former North Fork Mill Site. The project utilizes woody biomass feedstock from the nearby Sierra National Forest and from other community sources, thus promoting healthy forests and wildfire risk reduction. The benefits from this innovative solution include renewable energy, bio-based products, improved air quality, greenhouse gas reduction, reduced wildfire potential, and rural economic development. Project proponents consider the North Fork Bioenergy Facility to be a demonstration project and are using it to pave the way for future forest bioenergy facilities.
Mariposa Biomass Project: The Mariposa Biomass Project, a nonprofit community group in Mariposa County, is planning a 2 MW biomass power project. The project has already received a U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovations Grant and has submitted a $5 million grant application to the California Energy Commission’s EPIC program.