Washington passes forest biomass contract law

By Anna Austin
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire recently signed into law a bill that will help build a strong forest biomass industry within the state while mitigating overcrowded or fire-prone forests on state trust lands.

According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, there are approximately 3 million acres of state trust land in Washington. The Forest Biomass Supply Agreements Bill will allow the DNR to enter into long-term agreements to supply forest biomass from trust lands for energy projects/purposes. The bill goes hand-in-hand with HB 2165, which was passed in 2009 to authorize the DNR to implement forest biomass-to-energy pilot projects in eastern and western Washington.

Under the bill, rather than having to auction each timber sales' woody biomass waste on a sale-by-sale basis, the DNR will be authorized to provide five-year contracts with up to three renewals or leases for long-term biomass supply.

The call for proposals went out last summer and in January, the DNR selected its first four partners for biomass pilot projects from more than 30 interested parties. They are: Parametrix, which plans to develop a transportable fast-pyrolysis system; Borgford Bioenergy LLC, which will build Kulzer BioEnergy Park in Stevens County to generate 9.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity, bio-oil, syngas and biochar; Atlas Pellets, which will produce pellets from forest biomass; and Nippon Paper, which will replace an existing biomass boiler at its paper mill in Port Angeles, Wash., to produce 6 MW of excess power for sale to a power utility to help meet renewable energy requirements.

"We selected a group of projects that included a diverse mix of geography and technologies to help us to understand how to best create a forest biomass industry on state lands," said Aaron Toso of the Washington DNR Office of Commissioner of Public Lands. "The amount of material and duration of the contracts are a couple of the items we will be piloting." He said right now there are no plans to announce any other pilot projects this year.

The DNR will report to the state legislature in December on the progress and results of the pilot projects. It is currently pursuing funding to initiate a statewide woody biomass investment-grade supply and accessibility study, which Toso said will help the DNR determine what is an ecologically sustainable amount of material that can be removed for green energy purposes. The DNR hopes to have a final report by 2011.