Northwest Wood Energy Team Forum

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Northwest Wood Energy Team Forum in Stevenson, Wash. Situated along the Columbia River, the event gathered forestry professionals, project developers, financiers, academia, and state and federal ...
By Kolby Hoagland | May 09, 2014

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Northwest Wood Energy Team Forum in Stevenson, Wash. Situated along the Columbia River in the beautiful Columbia Gorge, the event gathered forestry professionals, project developers, financiers, academia, and state and federal regulators from the western U.S. and Canada to discuss current events and prudent paths forward for the biomass-to-energy sector.

After welcoming comments by Dave Olson with Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and Dough Daoust with NW Region USFS, the forum moved into reports from individual State Wood Energy Teams on state-level progress in the biomass-to-energy sector. While advancement in the biomass-to-energy and biobased product sectors vary considerably from state to state, a unified message of support for a bioeconomy was echoed by Patrick Holmes from USDA Secretary Vilsack’s office. During his keynote address, Holmes emphasized Secretary Vilsack and the Administration’s strong and continued support of work in and around the biomass-to-energy and biobased product markets. Holmes along with Chris Cassidy from Rural Economic Development at USDA detailed funding opportunities in the freshly approved Farm Bill along with strategies that improve the odds of landing these funds. The first day ended with updates on prominent bioenergy projects in the region that are in various stages of development and construction: Wallowa Resources, Mount Adams Log Yard & Business Incubator, Trinity Wood & Energy Campus, Wind River Biomass Campus, and Diacarbon.

Over the three days that the forum ran, the theme focused heavily on the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, B.C., and Alaska) and the policy, finance, and network opportunities available for project development and deployment. Attendees and speakers from neighboring regions were also present and offered updates, strategies, and opinions on how to best move the industry forward in their region. A strong contingent from California (Watershed Research & Training Center and Sierra Institute for Community & Environment) discussed the distinct opportunities for bioenergy in California along with nuances regarding California SB 1122. Representatives from Alaska offered insight into the incredible potential and what seem to be equally enormous deterrents for the development of the bioenergy industry in their state. Joe Seymour with BTEC offered a national view and challenged those in the West to target specific fossil heating sources that have an economic disadvantage compared to biomass.

With roughly one hundred attendees at any one time during the forum, the gathering was an excellent opportunity to connect with the major federal and regional stakeholders whose job it is to support the development of bioeconomies in the Pacific Northwest and neighboring regions. From foresters to energy producers, the gathering offered a breadth of opinions and considerations, which ultimately provided attendees with a better vantage of prudent paths forward towards a mature bioeconomy across regions.

The theoretical and anecdotal portions of the forum (ie-power point presentations) were put into a real-world framework on the third and final day. Attendees were allowed a private mobile-pyrolysis demonstration of commercially available technologies and tours of SDS Lumber, Wind River biomass, and Bear Mountain Forest Products. Tour attendees were given the opportunity to observe each facility's technology up close with managers and equipment operators available to explain the finer details. Beginning with the potential of biochar and pyrolysis oil to the last stop at an operating pellet mill, the hands-on occasion at facilities from across the bioenergy products spectrum was a definite highlight for those who attended.

Two centuries ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed by present day Stevenson, Wash. during their exploration of land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark did not discover a "direct and practicable” water route from the interior U.S. to the Pacific Ocean, as then President Thomas Jefferson had hoped. What Lewis and Clark did encounter during their journey was a region rich in land and aquatic resources. In the two centuries that have elapsed since Lewis and Clark passed by the site where the forum was held, life in the area has changed considerably. What has not changed is the importance of the resources that Lewis and Clark noted in their journals. Modern technologies in the bioenergy industry and groups like the State Wood Energy Teams present an opportunity to bolster an industry that fosters forest health, incites economic development, and ensures a clean energy future so that in two hundred years the Pacific Northwest remains a vibrant region.

I would like to personally thank the forum organizer for the invitation to cover their event and the opportunity for Biomass Magazine to contribute to the forum's dialogue.