Sierra Institute biomass heating project to break ground

By Anna Simet | August 09, 2017

A biomass heating project in Plumas County, California, is set to break ground after a multiyear development process.

Aug. 1, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing and subsequent vote on whether or not the project would move forward. The board approved the project and its budget, and construction will begin within the next two weeks, according to Camille Swezy, biomass program associate at the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment.

Armed with a $2.6 million California Energy Commission grant and a county match of $400,000, the Sierra Institute launched the project in 2015, and spent the last two years developing and refining the concept, Swezy said. The timeline has been pushed out several times, she said, but highlighted the project’s skilled team members, including technology provider Wisewood Energy, which built a biomass  thermal project in Burns, Oregon, that heats multiple buildings including a court house, sheriff’s office and a school.

Housed in a cross-laminated timber building, the small-scale, cogeneration biomass boiler will provide heat to the Plumas County Health and Human Services Building in Quincy, which is currently heated via a geothermal heating system that hasn’t been meeting the building’s thermal needs. The new system will also generate a small amount of power, enough to offset the amount of power consumed onsite. Fuel will consist of low-value biomass material, mostly the byproduct of forest restoration/thinning activities, and come from a variety of land managers and agencies, Swezy said. “We have a lot of options, and will probably finalize that in the coming months.”

The Sierra Institute is also working with partners to build an integrated biomass utilization campus in Crescent Mills, California, as well as investigating the potential of a network of biomass-fired boilers to serve pubic institutions throughout Plumas County.

The institute will run the system for the duration of the CEC grant, and then transfer it over to the county when it ends in 2018.  “It’s been a tremendous learning experience for our organization, and really everyone involved,” Swezy added. “It’s very exciting that we’re finally moving forward.”