Second California small-scale bioenergy plant nets $4.9M grant

By Regine Miller, Camptonville Community Partnership | March 30, 2017

California’s forests are facing a tree mortality crisis due to consecutive years of drought, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation, and warmer temperatures. Dead and dying trees are a significant problem throughout the Sierra Nevada, where the U.S. Forest Service has estimated that there are at least 102 million dead trees over 7.7 million acres. While some dead trees contribute to a healthy forest ecosystem, the record levels of tree die-off have created dangerous conditions that could fuel catastrophic wildfires.  Bioenergy from forest biomass could help alleviate the threat of wildfire while providing an important source of renewable baseload energy.

The planned community-scale Camptonville, California, forest bioenergy power plant is proposed to receive $4.9MM in funding from the California Energy Commission as part of its Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) grant program, Demonstrate and Evaluate Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Woody Biomass-to-Electricity Systems category. The project is one of two in the state that are proposed for funding, with the other being the Mariposa Biomass Project.  Camptonville’s 3-MW direct combustion boiler steam turbine generator power plant will integrate advanced emissions controls and a state-of-the-art low water use condenser using the EPIC funding and will be the first of its kind in California.

The work to be funded by the California Energy Commission will have positive impacts throughout the state. Most notably, it will validate considerable reductions in air emissions and the amount of water consumed for biomass power generation. The project will also support utility ratepayers by increasing the availability of renewable electricity, increasing grid reliability, and reducing risk of catastrophic wildfire by utilizing dead and diseased trees and forest byproducts. 

Camptonville’s power plant will produce renewable electricity using forest biomass for export to Pacific Gas & Electric’s grid under the State’s BioMAT program, a California Public Utilities program established in 2012.  It intends to serve as a replicable business model for successful biomass utilization in other Sierra Nevada communities faced with high forest fuel loads and limited economic opportunities. The operation is estimated to create up to 27 new full time jobs which will cut the unemployment rate in the rural community by more than 50 percent.

The plant is proposed to be a combined heat and power facility meaning it will produce both electricity and heat using forest biomass.  The electricity produced will be sold to PG&E while the heat produced will be sold to businesses with heat requirements that are located alongside the bioenergy facility.  Such businesses could include greenhouses, a firewood, pole or wood pellet manufacturing facility, a wood pallet recycling facility, a composting facility, or a brewery to name a few.