USDA Commits to Biomass

By Bob Cleaves | October 07, 2013

In mid-September, the USDA made a public commitment to support bioenergy, including the biomass, pellet and thermal industries. At a press conference, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Biomass Power Association and a few of our sister organizations.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who could not be there due to a last-minute emergency, expressed enthusiasm for the agreement. In a personal statement he issued, Vilsack said, “Today's announcements will help us find innovative ways to use leftover wood to create renewable energy and support good jobs in rural America. Wood-to energy efforts are a part of our 'all of the above' energy strategy. Appropriately scaled wood energy facilities also support our efforts to remove hazardous fuels and reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires."

This is a significant step forward for biomass. Public recognition by a federal agency for not only producing renewable energy, but also for our role in reducing the risk of forest fires, is a big deal. Particularly during a month when wildfires threatened Yosemite National Park in California, it was gratifying to see the federal government acknowledging the benefits of biomass.

Part of the MoU will cover efforts to promote biomass to the general public, and part of the agreement will cover increased coordination among federal agencies in addressing biomass, something which could prove especially helpful to us as we prepare for a final ruling by the U.S. EPA on the regulation of biomass emissions under the Clean Air Act.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement, the Biomass Power Association collected stories of successful USDA-biomass partnerships around the country. We found some excellent examples of how these public-private partnerships can keep federal lands healthy while generating clean energy, so I thought I would share a few of them here:

• Colorado The Eagle Valley project by Evergreen Clean Energy will open this fall in Gypsum, Colo. It will use woody biomass from 2,500 acres of land ravaged by beetle kill and posing high wildfire risks, to power nearly 8,000 local homes and businesses. A USDA Stewardship Contract and a $40 million Rural Utilities Service loan guarantee made this possible.

• New York A USDA collaboration in New York with ReEnergy Holdings in the North Country region of New York is helping fund an innovative public/private partnership to invest in energy crops grown on marginal farmland and used as fuel to produce electricity.

• Arizona The White Mountain Stewardship Project is a partnership between Novo Power LLC in Snowflake, Ariz., and the U.S. Forest Service, created largely as a result of the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002. The 10-year contract was established to thin approximately 150,000 acres in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. This program provides approximately 155,000 bone-dry tons of ponderosa pine chips annually to the region, enough to power approximately 20,000 homes and businesses.

• Montana Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, Mont., generates heat for mill operations and sells 2.5 MW of power to Flathead Electric Cooperative. A USDA partnership helped Stoltze replace a 30-year-old wood boiler.

• Oregon Biomass One, a 30-MW wood-fired biomass power plant, is located in the Rogue River Valley in southern Oregon that includes federally managed lands such as Siskiyou National Forest, the Umpqua National Forest, the Klamath National Forest and the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management. This year, an estimated 25 percent of Biomass One’s fuel consumption will consist of material processed and recovered as a byproduct from forest operations. U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management stewardship projects combined yield around 30,000 tons of woody biomass in the region each year.

We are looking forward to seeing even more partnerships following the USDA agreement.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association