USDA funds state wood energy teams, wood-to-energy projects

By Erin Voegele | July 16, 2014

The USDA has announced the award of $2.5 million in grants to develop wood energy teams in 11 states. An additional $1.25 million was awarded to nine wood-to-energy projects. According to the USDA, the federal funds will leverage more than $4.5 million in investments from USDA partners.

"Renewable wood energy is part of the Obama Administration's 'all of the above' energy strategy," said Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Working with our partners, the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies and create new rural jobs."

Under the agreements announced for the state wood energy teams, private, state and federal organizations will work together to simulate the development of additional wood energy projects in their states. According to the USDA, activities may include workshops that provide technical financial and environmental information, preliminary engineering assessments and community outreach needed to support development of wood energy projects.

Projects funded through the Wood-to-Energy grant program will use woody biomass sourced from National Forest System lands, such as beetle-killed trees, to improve health and aid in wildfire prevention. Information published by the USDA indicates the grant program helps applicants complete the necessary design work needed to secure public or private investment for construction. The program began in 2005 and, to date, has provided more than $36 million through more than 150 grants. The program supported a variety of projects, from the installation of biomass boilers to helping businesses acquire equipment to improve efficiencies.

Recipients of the Statewide Wood Energy Team grants include:
Arizona: $250,000 for the Arizona Biomass Enterprise team, led by the Arizona State Forestry Division
Colorado: $250,000 for the Colorado Statewide Energy Team, led by the Colorado State Forest Service
Kentucky: $250,000 for the Kentucky Statewide Wood Energy Team, led by the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence
Montana: $250,000 for the Montana Statewide Wood Energy Team and Wood Energy Program, led by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
New Mexico: $250,000 for the New Mexico Statewide Wood Energy Enterprise Team, led by New Mexico Forest Industry Association
New York: $250,000 for the Biomass Heating Technology Market Simulation in New York: New York’s Statewide Wood Energy Team, led by Empire State Forestry Foundation
Oregon: $250,000 for the Oregon Stateside Wood Energy Team, led by Oregon Department of Forestry
Vermont: $250,000 for the Vermont Statewide Wood Energy Team, led by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation
Washington: $250,000 for Healthy Washington Forests through Wood Energy, led by the Washington Department of Natural Resources
West Virginia: $250,000 for the West Virginia Wood Energy Team: Facilitating Bio-Business Development, led by West Virginia University
Wisconsin: $250,000 for Wisconsin Refuels with Wood Energy, led by the Wisconsin Department of Administration

Wood-to-Energy Grant Recipients include:
BVP Property LLC
: $250,000 for the Big Valley Lumber and Cogeneration Facility in California
Watershed Research and Training Center: $96,000 for systems impact study funding for North Folk and Wilseyville CHP projects in California
Wagner Construction Inc.: $250,000 for an industrial wood pellet mill in Minnesota
Capital Regional Development Council: $250,000 for the Claremont hot water district energy system in New Hampshire
Three Dimensional Timberlands LLC: $33,600 for a technical engineering report for Three Dimensional Timberlands integrated biomass facility in Oregon
Northern Forest Center:  $47,000 for the St. Johnsbury wood pellet mill engineering analysis in Vermont
Qualco Energy: $120,000 for the Qualco Energy woody biomass CHP project in Washington
Wind River Biomass Utility LLC: $100,000 for the Wind River Biomass CHP Utility in Washington

Biomass Thermal Energy Council Executive Director Joseph Seymour weighed in on the funding annoucement, saying that the awards "are a wise investment in renewable and affordable biomass thermal energy for communities across the country...We praise the USDA for its leadership on biomass thermal project development and forest stewardship. These State Wood Energy Teams and energy projects will result in cost savings for businesses, institutions, and communities that rely on volatile and high priced heating fuels like oil and propane," he said.

"This is yet another example of the successful dialogue between the states, resource advocates, the U.S. Forest Service, and the USDA to deploy efficient, modern biomass thermal systems," continued Seymour. "BTEC congratulates the recipients and pledges its support to the 16 State Wood Energy Teams to help coordinate and share best practices in our common goal of achieving a better way to heat."